Social media companies must act on coronavirus misinformation, says digital expert

7 July 2020, 16:57

By Seán Hickey

A digital expert told LBC that social media companies must put aside economic gain and start monitoring misinformation.

Imran Ahmed is the Chief Executive of the Centre for Countering Digital Hate, who conducted a report that found around one third of people are "hesitant" to be vaccinated against coronavirus, should a vaccine come on stream.

"We all know that vaccines are our best way of containing coronavirus and returning to normality, our report uncovered an industry undermining that vaccine before it can even be developed." Mr Ahmed told Shelagh Fogarty.

"At the heart of this are social media companies who profit off that misinformation and they know it's a problem, they claim they are going to act on coronavirus misinformation but what our report shows is that despite those claims these networks have grown."

He told Shelagh that his team have been in contact with the UK government and the UN to try and enforce rules on such companies around misinformation. "It's time now for credible action to incentivise these social media companies to act."

"Did you find that those who get most of their information from social media platforms were the most skeptical?" Shelagh wondered.

Companies like Facebook profit off of keeping people on their platform as long as possible
Companies like Facebook profit off of keeping people on their platform as long as possible. Picture: PA

Mr Ahmed confirmed for her that "people who get more of their news from social media than mainstream media, that was the best indication of whether they display what is called "vaccine hesitancy"."

"That's a particular indicator that social media is a problem." he said, adding that "it is the algorithm that is to blame." The boss of the Centre for Digital Hate chief went on to explain that "what attracts attention is not what a credible source says, it's something that is a bit chewy, a bit controversial."

"Controversial content is the most engaging on these platforms and the algorithms promote that which is the most engaging.

"I'm not saying that they prefer counter-factual information, it's that they want to keep you on the platform, and that's the fundamental problem." He said, explaining that the goal of companies to keep you on their platform for as long as possible, thus flooding people with misinformation is completely unethical.

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