Big Tech Unholy Alliance: Facebook, Google, Microsoft, and Twitter Team Up to Issue Joint Wuhan Virus Statement
Some of world’s premier technology companies — Facebook, Google, Microsoft, and Twitter — have teamed up in efforts to spread accurate information about the threat the China virus poses. They are also working to prevent disinformation being spread about the virus. However, critics fear that depending too much on social media is risky in of itself.
“We are working closely together on COVID-19 response efforts,” according to a joint statement released last week by Facebook, Google, YouTube, LinkedIn, Microsoft, Reddit, and Twitter. “We’re helping millions of people stay connected while also jointly combating fraud and misinformation about the virus, elevating authoritative content on our platforms, and sharing critical updates in coordination with government healthcare agencies around the world. We invite other companies to join us as we work to keep our communities healthy and safe.”
Facebook, Twitter, and YouTube have all unveiled tools to promote information that medical authorities have reviewed, in addition to outlining the steps they’re taking to review and delete content which spans from popular misconceptions to fraudulent advice. In Twitter’s case, blatant cases of satire can be subject to censorship.
Although some of these rules appear reasonable, skeptics fear some of them could potentially morph into an effort to stifle legitimate debate about the whether the government is taking the right steps in battling the pandemic in addition to the actual danger the virus poses. The latter point is particularly important because as Calvin Freiburger of LifeSite News points out this is a relatively new and evolving situation on which the experts themselves are not of one mind.
Google’s efforts, meanwhile, have already produced some hiccups, such as inadvertently blocking legitimate news apps and even the U.S. Centers for Disease Control from appearing in certain searches on the Google Play store.
“Social media is an important tool for connecting, particularly in times when we are forced to be apart. But using it as our primary or only source of accurate news information – particularly in a public health crisis that is evolving at warp speed – may be risky,” cautioned Cara Zwibel, director of the Fundamental Freedoms Program at the Canadian Civil Liberties Association.
Zwibel called attention to the erroneous removal of truthful information from these platforms, due to their reliance on automated programs over human reviewers. “What the current environment serves to highlight is the increasingly significant role that these private companies play in how we access and consume information,” she added. “It also makes plain some of the challenges and costs associated with using algorithms to moderate and, in some cases, censor, expressive content.”
While concerns remain about tech giants unjustly removing too much content, critics are also accusing these same companies of letting influential figures keep controversial statements on their social media accounts. Last week, Breitbart criticized Twitter for letting a tweet in which Tesla CEO Elon Musk asserted “kids are essentially immune” from the China virus say active on the platforms. However, the U.S. Centers for Disease Control says this statement is false.
On a similar note, Republican Senator Ben Sasse of Nebraska and Congressman Mike Gallagher of Wisconsin have written to Twitter CEO Jack Dorsey requesting that the platform remove tweets from Chinese government officials and state-owned media outlets lying about the regime’s efforts to contain the outbreak and disseminating conspiracy theories about the virus originally coming from the United States.
“By banning Twitter in China, the Chinese Communist Party is keeping its citizens in the dark,” the lawmakers asserted. “By putting propaganda on Twitter, the Chinese Communist Party is lying to the rest of the world.”
“It is clear that Chinese Communist Party officials are using Twitter to disseminate propaganda in the midst of a dangerous global crisis,” the letter added. “Even worse, this propaganda obscures and confuses users over the origins of the COVID-19 pandemic and potentially undermines efforts to contain and control the outbreak. We believe this behavior more than warrants their removal from the platform.”
It remains to be seen whether Twitter will even bother to remove these tweets.