Google, Facebook, Amazon and other tech giants spent a day in secretive talks with the World Health Organization to tackle the spread of coronavirus misinformation.
Social media companies including Twitter and Youtube have already been working to remove post about the virus that are proved to be fake.
The World Health Organization (WHO) has offered to work directly with the companies on fact checking in a bid to speed up the process.
Posts on the virus that needed to be removed have ranged from those calling it a fad disease or created by the government to claims it can be treated with oregano oil.
Companies at the meeting agreed to work with WHO on collaborative tools, better content and a call centre for people to call for advice, CNBC reported.
The ‘shocking’ rise in misinformation about the 2019-nCov virus has been described as an ‘infodemic’ by Andy Pattison from the World Health Organization.
He said sites were ‘awash’ with misinformation and conspiracy theories but that big tech companies were stepping up to combat the problem.
The meeting was organised by WHO but was hosted by Facebook at its Menlo Park campus in California, a spokesperson for the social media company told CNBC.
According to a CNBC report Amazon, Twilio, Dropbox, Google, Verizon, Salesforce, Twitter, YouTube, Airbnb, Kinsa and Mapbox were all at the meeting.
Apple, Lyft and Uber were invited but didn’t attend, according to the report.
WHO shared information with the companies about its response to the virus and attendees gave their own ideas to address the outbreak.
As well as fake news stories appearing on Google and Facebook, books and products claiming to cure the disease were showing on Amazon.
Other outlandish hoaxes doing the rounds on social media include the implication the US government has patented coronavirus.
Fact-checkers have found this to be completely untrue and the Silicon Valley tech firms are battling to stop such claims from spreading to avoid mass hysteria.
A total of 18 nations including the US, Australia, Canada and France, have confirmed cases of coronavirus.
The disease is now confirmed to have infected at least 4,500 people around the world and to have killed 106 in China since the outbreak a month ago.
Thai Airways employees are pictured disinfecting an empty plane cabin at Suvarnabhumi International Airport in Bangkok today, January 28. Thailand has 14 confirmed coronavirus cases – the most outside of China
Cyber security experts warn that some malicious links posing as innocent articles or videos about the outbreak of the killer Wuhan virus actually contains code designed to pilfer personal information.
Hackers are spreading articles, posts and videos masked as legitimate file formats, such as PDFs or MP4s, to hide their true nature.
If clicked on and downloaded onto a phone or computer, hackers can gain access to the user’s stored information and can destroy, block or copy data at will.
When you search for What is coronavirus on Google you get a mixture of news stories, an SOS alert and tweets before the results start appearing
‘The coronavirus, which is being widely discussed as a major news story, has already been used as bait by cybercriminals,’ said Anton Ivanov, Kaspersky malware analyst.
‘So far, we have seen only 10 unique files, but as this sort of activity often happens with popular media topics then we expect that this tendency may grow.
‘As people continue to be worried for their health, we may see more and more malware hidden inside fake documents about the coronavirus being spread.’
In order to avoid falling foul of the links, cybersecurity experts advise going directly to an official source.
According to Pattison some of the companies are further along in tackling the spread of misinformation about the virus than others, but didn’t say which.
‘The purpose of that was to plant seeds of ideas, and it worked well,’ Pattison told CNBC. ‘I encouraged collaboration and innovation. During a crisis, it’s a good time for that.’
Twitter has added a prompt to search results about coronavirus to direct users to official Government information.
When searching for the term ‘coronavirus’ on Twitter, users are presented with a link to the Department of Health and Social Care website and its official Twitter account, where official updates are issued
The social media platform said the tool was part of efforts to ensure correct information reached those searching from it and prevent misinformation spreading.
Facebook has a similar prompt when searching for the disease, as well as showing a link to the World Health Organization page prominently in the results.
When searching Google for the virus you get news stories, tweets, help guides from WHO and safety tips before the results.
Amazon and Facebook offered to share ad space or provide volunteers to help stop the spread of misinformation and the companies all agreed to meet every few months until the virus was under control.
The virus has had an impact on the tech industry with companies having to delay production of new products and the Mobile World Congress in Barcelona – the world’s largest mobile conference – was cancelled outright.
Apple has closed shops in mainland China and a number of airlines have cancelled flights to the country.
Coronavirus: What we know so far
What is the coronavirus?
The virus has been identified as a new type of coronavirus. Coronaviruses are a large family of pathogens, most of which cause mild respiratory infections such as the common cold.
But coronaviruses can also be deadly. SARS, or severe acute respiratory syndrome, is caused by a coronavirus and killed hundreds of people in China and Hong Kong in the early 2000s.
Can it kill?
Yes, 106 people have so far died after testing positive for the virus.
What are the symptoms?
Its symptoms are typically a fever, cough and trouble breathing, but some patients have developed pneumonia, a potentially life-threatening infection that causes inflammation of the small air sacs in the lungs. People carrying the novel coronavirus may only have mild symptoms, such as a sore throat. They may assume they have a common cold and not seek medical attention, experts fear.
How is it detected?
The virus’s genetic sequencing was released by scientists in China to the rest of the world to enable other countries to quickly diagnose potential new cases. This helps other countries respond quickly to disease outbreaks.
To contain the virus, airports are detecting infected people with temperature checks. But as with every virus, it has an incubation period, meaning detection is not always possible because symptoms have not appeared yet.
How did it start and spread?
The first cases identified were among people connected to the Huanan Seafood Wholesale Market in Wuhan.
Cases have since been identified elsewhere which could have been spread through human-to-human transmission.
What are countries doing to prevent the spread?
Countries in Asia have stepped up airport surveillance. They include Japan, South Korea, Thailand, Hong Kong, Indonesia, Malaysia and Philippines.
Australia and the US are also screening patients for a high temperature, and the UK announced it will screen passengers returning from Wuhan.
Is it similar to anything we’ve ever seen before?
Experts have compared it to the 2003 outbreak of severe acute respiratory syndrome (SARS). The epidemic started in southern China and killed more than 700 people in mainland China, Hong Kong and elsewhere
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