By Len Ramirez

MOUNTAIN VIEW (KPIX 5) — From epidemic to “infodemic;” that’s how the World Health Organization is characterizing the sudden rise of misinformation related to the coronavirus.

“False information about the virus itself is spread faster than the virus,” said Andrew Pattison, a digital content manager for the World Health Organization, which is based in Geneva, Switzerland.

“It’s got into more people’s lives and infected more people than the virus itself.”

Pattison is in Silicon Valley this week visiting social media giants like Facebook and Google. His mission is twofold: to make sure that well-sourced reliable information from the WHO or the Centers for Disease Controls comes to the top of Google or other social media searches, and that false information is taken down.

“Misinformation can lead to harmful advice, either avoiding doing something that they should do to protect themselves, or giving harmful advice that people can hurt themselves by doing it,” Pattison said.

The WHO has been fighting everything from false posts that blamed bat soup for the spread of the virus, to overly alarming and factually incorrect YouTube videos that went out in the early stages of the disease.

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“Some of the videos that went out on YouTube, during the first week of the emergency, got hundreds of millions of views, and none of them are based on science,” he said.

YouTube, which is owned by Google, has now agreed to add a box to the top of any coronavirus search results that provides a link to the WHO’s website for the latest information.

Similar inquires on other platforms such as Pinterest now turn up WHO-provided content that gives facts and debunks myths. Pattison said Silicon Valley has been very receptive, with some companies like Google and Facebook deploying independent fact checkers to flag or take down false information.

“We can’t do it alone, we do need them. We have the credible content and they have the reach. And together we can actually fight this infodemic.”

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