Facebook held a press call on Wednesday afternoon to respond to the coronavirus outbreak and steps the social media platform would take worldwide to address concerns.
Arkansas Money & Politics was among the outlets from around the world that listened in on the call.
Mark Zuckerberg, the company’s founder and CEO, took questions from the press and laid out steps that would be taken for the platform’s 2.5 billion global users.
Zuckerberg said they’re planning “a coronavirus information center that will be put at the top of everyone’s Facebook feed.”
That “will be rolled out in the next 24 hours,” he said for cities most hard-hit by the pandemic “with more areas to follow in the days to come.”
The feed would include information from organizations like the World Health Organization and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention in the United States.
“We’re focusing on authoritative information and keeping misinformation from spreading,” Zuckerberg said and was deferring to those organizations as he made clear, “I’m not a public health expert.”
He cited some examples that are against Facebook’s rules.
“We’re seeing hoaxes to encourage people who are sick to not get treated,” Zuckerberg said. “One going around that says ‘if you think you have this, drink bleach’.”
The hub would also focus on getting people to social distancing more seriously and “we need to make sure people honor this” and “people just need to be convinced that it is important to them.”
He also said the effort would be to “encourage the right behaviors on this.”
Zuckerberg added Facebook was juggling free speech rights against hoaxes.
“We don’t allow content that could cause imminent danger,” Zuckerberg said. “You don’t allow people to yell fire in a crowded room and I think that’s similar to people spreading misinformation in a time of an outbreak like this.”
Another step Facebook is taking to assist WHO, CDC and others with promoting their information is financial assistance.
“We’ve given those organizations as many ad credits as they need to get their message and PSAs out,” Zuckerberg said.
He also said Facebook’s other companies — Instagram, WhatsApp, Messenger, among others — have been more active worldwide.
“We’re seeing very elevated levels” of calling in Italy and other countries that have been impacted by the coronavirus. “It’s more than double overall,” Zuckerberg said and compared it to midnight on New Year’s Eve, which, he added, was the company’s highest point of usage.
That’s been critical in the world-wide response to the pandemic.
“First-hand accounts often tell a much deeper story than just a bunch of stats,” Zuckerberg said. “It’s been extremely helpful convincing people around the world that this isn’t just a flu.”
While the focus of the nearly 90 minute call was on health information, Zuckerberg had other concerns.
“We’re very focused on the economic response,” he said. “It is not going to just be a health crisis, it is going to be an economic shock … especially to small businesses.”
Zuckerberg announced a $100 million program would be rolled out to assist some 30,000 businesses.
He also addressed a Facebook bug on Tuesday that was marking Coronavirus posts on the platform as spam. Zuckerberg said it was unrelated to content moderation policies and a “technical error” on the company’s part that have since been fixed.
Zuckerberg also addressed his own situation. “I am definitely working from home,” he said. “It is a big change to work from home, especially a big change now that schools are closed.”
“I am worried the isolation from people being at home could lead to more depression or mental health issues…and I want to make sure we are ahead of that with more people working on things around suicide and self injury prevention, not less.”
On a final note, Zuckerberg said, “this is clearly a very difficult and stressful time for people” and “I am personally very grateful for [people on the front lines] and what they’re doing.”