The cost of fighting coronavirus disinformation

It's going to go up

We often talk about how disinformation can harm our personal health, our right to privacy, even our democracies, but it turns out that fighting disinformation also costs money.

The Toronto Star reports that the Public Health Agency of Canada has spent $200,000 so far on fighting coronavirus misinformation through social media campaigns, and Ontario’s Ministry of Health has spent $3,800.

On one hand $200K is a lot of money, on the other hand, it’s a drop in the budget of PHAC’s spending that goes under the information category, assuming that’s where this would go, which in 2018-2019 was $19.4 million, part of a $675 million departmental budget overall.

And in the U.K., a special government team is being set up to help fight coronavirus disinformation onlinel, which will have its own costs, though I wasn’t able to quickly find out what those were.

What is certain is that the coronavirus, and the associated sickness, COVID-19 are going to reshape our world, and it’s yet another reason to look what cost the public should bear to mitigate the disinformation being spread on platforms that make millions or even billions in profit, and whose algorithms may prioritize the sharing of disinformation.

I saw researcher Joan Donovan putting forward a similar question about platforms on Twitter. Donaldson is the Director of the Technology and Social Change Project at Harvard’s Kennedy School’s Shorenstein Centre, and is one of the foremost experts on online disinformation and how it spreads.

This will be something to consider and argue over and perhaps legislate as we move through this pandemic.

And speaking of platforms, I haven’t seen any official updates on coronavirus misinformation on Facebook’s blog, but Twitter posted something very interesting on Wednesday: brand communications guidelines in a crisis.

They get right into it: 

Let’s be clear. This is not a ‘marketing opportunity’ to capitalise on, and we do not recommend brands opportunistically linking themselves to a health scare. However, we want to recognise that this is a new reality and requires thoughtful navigation, from all of us.

And then go on to suggest best practices going forward, including “Be thoughtful about tone of voice” which I’m sure will snag a lot of brands and people. I think this post is timely and important, and useful setting out guidelines for those who might not have their own or might need to hear the message. 

Another tidbit: 

We’ve seen that verified people on Twitter are about 2.4x more likely to participate in COVID-19 conversation than non-verified people, and 75% of COVID-19 related Tweets are actually Retweets. In other words, the primary method of sharing information during a time of crisis is through Retweeting.

Be careful what you retweet! As always!