COVID-19 or the coronavirus pandemic has brought humanity together like never before as billions of people around the world try to keep the deadly COVID-19 disease from spreading further and continuing to cause further damage. And of course, the internet and social media is helping by keeping self-quarantined people occupied and allowing work-from-home option for millions of employees who cannot go to their offices owing to the current scenario.
However, just as people are fighting to contain the spread of the deadly virus that has taken over the physical world, internet giants such as Google are trying to contain the spread of an equally deadly contagion that seems to have taken over the virtual world. No points for guessing – misinformation.
App that spread fake COVID-19 info taken down by Google
Google has not only been trying to curb the spread of misinformation related to coronavirus by taking down hundreds of fake news websites and blogs from its search, but also by banning some of the apps from its mobile application download storefront Google Play Store.
One of the most recent app removals done by Google for spreading misinformation about COVID-19 is the removal of a popular conspiracy theory app called Infowars.
Disputed the need for social distancing and other efforts
Google has confirmed that it taken the app down from the Play Store on Friday, March 27, after it was found that the app was associated with a video that had some very misleading information and theories regarding some of the measures that are currently being encouraged during the ongoing pandemic.
According to Wired, the app was reportedly removed because of a video posted by radio host and conspiracy theorist Alex Jones that "disputed the need for social distancing, shelter in place, and quarantine efforts meant to slow the spread of the novel coronavirus." The app apparently had more than 100,000 downloads on Google Play Store before removal.
Combating misinformation top priority for Google
Google says that curbing the spread of misinformation on its Play Store is a "top priority" for the team "now more than ever." "When we find apps that violate Play policy by distributing misleading or harmful information, we remove them from the store," a Google spokesperson said in a statement.
Jones was ordered to stop selling fake coronavirus cures
It can be recalled earlier Alex Jones, who runs the Infowars website, was ordered by New York Attorney General Letitia James to stop claiming that his Infowars products – which includes a toothpaste that "kills the whole SARS-corona family at point-blank range" - could protect against the novel coronavirus.
Jones was allegedly trying to sell these products by false marketing them as a treatment of cure for coronavirus. The Attorney General in her statement said that Jones' mistruths are incredibly dangerous and pose a serious threat to the public health of New Yorkers and citizens of America.
Apple already knew Infowars was bad anyways
Meanwhile, Apple had taken down the Infowars app from its App Store back in September 2018, citing App Store guidelines that forbade any content that is "offensive, insensitive, upsetting, intended to disgust, or in exceptionally poor taste." Infowars is just one of the hundreds of apps that spread fake news and information, but it's good to know that Google's trying to clear the junk out of Play Store.
Coronavirus misinformation – second biggest challenge
Now, any piece of information regarding coronavirus, irrespective of its origin or genuineness, and that could potentially cause damage to public health is being shared and spread wholeheartedly by a clueless public. And it's just very alarming just how a lot of hoaxes and misinformation related to such a grave public health emergency is spreading like a wildfire on the internet and on various social media networks.
It is advisable that people use their judgement and decide for themselves if the information that they are going to share is worthwhile or if it will put the lives of millions of people at risk. However, it is easier said than done, especially in times like these, and therefore several big ltech firms and social media companies are taking the issue seriously and are trying their best to crackdown on the coronavirus misinformation by collaborating with health authorities such as WHO and the CDC to give factual information.
Google has an SOS alert in place for searches related to COVID-19, that directs users to advisories and resources from the various leading health organisations such as the WHO, the CDC and local government health ministries, at the top of their search results. Other tech firms and social media networks such as Apple, Microsoft, Facebook, LinkedIn, Reddit, Twitter, and YouTube are also doing their bit in "jointly combating fraud and misinformation about the virus," according to a statement issued on March 16.