Facebook deletes Brazil President’s coronavirus misinfo post – TechCrunch

Facebook has diverted from its policy of not fact-checking politicians in order to prevent the spread of potentially harmful coronavirus misinformation from Brazilian President Jair Bolsonaro. Facebook made the decisive choice to remove a video shared by Bolsonaro on Sunday where he claimed that “hydroxychloroquine is working in all places.” That’s despite the drug still undergoing testing to determine its effectiveness for treating COVID-19, which researchers and health authorities have not confirmed.

“We remove content on Facebook and Instagram that violates our Community Standards, which do not allow misinformation that could lead to physical harm” a Facebook spokesperson told TechCrunch. Facebook specifically prohibits false claims regarding cure, treatments, the availability of essential services, and the location or intensity of contagion outbreaks.

BBC News Brazil first reported the takedown today in Portuguese. In the removed video, Bolsonaro had been speaking to a street vendor, and the President claimed “They want to work”, in contrast to the World Health Organization’s recommendation that people practice social distancing. He followed up that “That medicine there, hydroxychloroquine, is working in all places.”

If people wrongly believe there’s an widely-effective treatment for COVID-19, they may be more reckless about going out in public, attending work, or refusing to stay in isolation. That could cause the virus to spread more quickly, defeat efforts to flatten the curve, and overrun health care systems.

This why Twitter removed two of Bolsonaro’s tweets on Sunday, as well as one from Rudy Giuliani, in order to stop the distribution of misinformation. But to date, Facebook has generally avoided acting as an arbiter of truth regarding the veracity of claims by politicians. It notoriously refuses to send blatant misinformation in political ads, including those from Donald Trump, to fact-checkers.

Last week, though, Facebook laid out that COVID-19 misinformation “that could contribute to imminent physical harm” would be directly and immediately removed as it’s done about other outbreaks since 2018, while less urgent conspiracy theories that don’t lead straight to physical harm are sent to fact-checkers that can then have the Facebook reach of those posts demoted.

Now the question is whether Facebook would be willing to apply this enforcement to Trump, who’s been criticized for spreading misinformation about the severity of the outbreak, potential treatments, and the risk of sending people back to work. Facebook is known to fear backlash from conservative politicians and citizens who’ve developed a false narrative that it discriminates against or censors their posts.

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Twitter pulls The Federalist’s dangerous ‘pox’ coronavirus tweet – TechCrunch

A tweet by conservative online magazine The Federalist, which suggested people should deliberately infect themselves with the coronavirus strain COVID-19, has been pulled after it “violated” Twitter’s rules.

The infringing tweet, posted on Wednesday morning, said: “It is time to think outside the box and seriously consider a somewhat unconventional approach to COVID-19: controlled voluntary infection.”

A spokesperson for Twitter confirmed the tweet violated its new coronavirus-related rules.

The article focuses on “pox parties,” where parents would historically gather their young children together in order to infect their children with the common childhood disease. The theory goes that the child obtains the immunity and doesn’t suffer from the illness later in life, which can have far more serious medical implications. The article goes on to suggest this same principle should be used for the coronavirus strain, COVID-19, which to date has killed more than 20,000 people.

Governments, both federal and local, have unified behind mandating that people stay at home and self-isolate in the hope of slowing the spread of the virus to prevent overrunning the health systems.

Vice reports that the author, Doug Perednia is an unlicensed dermatologist in Oregon, where he lives.

Experts were quick to criticize Perednia’s article. Eugene Gu, a doctor and chief executive of Cool Quit, called the article “dangerous” and “irresponsible.” The article also used a racist term in its headline to describe the coronavirus, which Gu called the “racist cherry on top of dangerous and fake medical advice.”

One Twitter user said that sharing the link to The Federalist’s article was blocked because it was “potentially harmful.”

A spokesperson for The Federalist did not comment.

Twitter has taken an aggressive approach to misinformation by proactively verifying known experts to improve the flow of accurate information. It has also doubled down on its efforts to prevent disinformation by updating its policies to prohibit new tweets that “could place people at a higher risk of transmitting COVID-19.”

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Twitter is donating $1M across two foundations to support journalism during the coronavirus pandemic – TechCrunch

Social media companies have been hard at work to make sure they play a helpful rather than harmful role in disseminating news and information about the coronavirus pandemic. Today, Twitter took an extra step beyond its own platform to put its efforts into the wider, already under-pressure world of journalism. Twitter announced that it would be donating $1 million equally between two organizations, the Committee to Protect Journalists and the International Women’s Media Foundation, to further their work specifically related to supporting those reporting on COVID-19.

Organizations like the IWMF and the CJP always play a vital role — respectively in supporting the work of female journalists and in defending all journalists who are working in complicated environments or with tricky subject matter. But it’s in times of crisis that you can especially see how vital their existence is. If you look now on the CJP site, for example, there are a number of stories shedding light on how journalists covering coronavirus news are under threat, particularly in countries where governments are trying to suppress too much negative information passed to the public. It’s a role that is especially urgent to play now, given just how much people are turning to the news and the public service that journalists are playing in getting information out.

The fact is that journalists are in no way immune from the wider theme of the world right now, which is that this global pandemic has drastically altered nearly every aspect of our lives. As Vijaya Gadde noted when announcing the grants, “Right now, every journalist is a COVID-19 journalist.” And given Twitter’s deep link with news, this means journalists’ plights — with some risking their health if not their lives to report stories — are Twitter’s plights. “Journalism is core to our service and we have a deep and enduring responsibility to protect that work.”

Indeed, the larger economic pressures of this public health crisis are a huge blow to journalism, which was already under a lot of financial pressure as a business. To that end, Gadde noted that the funds will be used in some way to help with that, “to ensure these organizations can continue their work in the face of new economic strains and to directly support journalists.”

Twitter is not the first social media organization to donate to journalism. Last week, Facebook also announced two tranches of $1 million each that it was donating respectively to news organizations for coronavirus reporting, and to fact-checking organizations to make sure the content shared on Facebook remains on the straight and narrow when it comes to being accurate.

“We are grateful for Twitter’s generous support. Our efforts at CPJ are focused on ensuring that journalists around the world have the information and resources they need to cover the COVID-19 pandemic safely. And we are pushing back against governments that are censoring the news, and restricting the work of the press. We need timely, accurate information flowing within countries and across borders so that political leaders, health policy experts, and the public at large can make informed decisions at this critical moment,” said Joel Simon, executive director, Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ), in a statement.

“Right now, there is a great need to support our community of journalists covering, and dealing with, this global pandemic. Based on our decades of work with journalists who operate in dangerous and difficult environments, the IWMF understands the critical role that safety and security plays in the industry. Thanks to the incredible support of Twitter, the IWMF will be able to address the needs of our community of journalists more deeply and robustly. By supporting journalists from diverse communities, together we can support the most representative news possible in this evolving time,” added Elisa Lees Muñoz, executive director, International Women’s Media Foundation (IWMF), in her own statement.

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New Jersey launches online portal to give residents accurate answers about COVID-19 – TechCrunch

Fake news about the novel coronavirus disease is a rampant problem across our social timelines. Think misinformation about treatments, symptoms and anecdotes tainted with racism and xenophobia.

As scientists and health professionals are still scrambling to find a cure, and even contain the outbreak, falsehoods can resonate more than they might during a time of confidence and stability. 

New Jersey, which has roughly 2,000 confirmed cases of COVID19, has partnered with New York-based Yext to get accurate and up to date information out to residents. Yext partners with businesses to send verified answers to consumers, and, in this case, verified information about the outbreak to residents. 

The New Jersey Office of Innovation and Yext created an online portal tacking live state updates and orders, testing information and assistance information for businesses and employees. It also has a hub that presents the most researched questions, like “how can I prevent myself from getting the virus” and gives answers from scientists. 

If you scroll to the bottom of the portal, there’s an interactive map detailing COVID-19 cases by county. Beyond the portal, residents can find information through Yext integrations with Google, Bing, Alexa, Siri, Apple Maps, Uber, Lyft, Facebook and more. 

Yext is working with other state agencies and businesses right now and offering its services pro bono, after seeing an uptick of users searching for COVID-19 answers on its platform. The New Jersey online portal was initiated and launched in five days, per a blog post.

This isn’t the first example of fighting misinformation that we’ve seen. WhatsApp, a Facebook-owned messenger system, has become a hub for misinformation spread through viral texts. This weekend, to help people “prepare, not panic,” India launched at chatbot on the popular platform to create awareness about COVID-19 (and my mom, who is in New Jersey but lives on WhatsApp, says she received messaging about it).  

Twitter responded to fake news threats by prioritizing its blue checks, its verification badge, for experts and professionals around COVID-19 so users can know when facts are coming from a trustworthy source. 

It also broadly banned any tweets about COVID-19 that could help the virus spread. Ideally, this would target tweets with false claims about the outbreak. Twitter’s efforts proved weak when a tweet from Elon Musk about how children are not vulnerable to coronavirus did not get deleted. 

We’re also seeing efforts from the CDC and WHO to make sure everyone is informed on best practices during this scary time. The flurry of efforts of different organizations, both private and public, comes to show that while washing hands is an important tip to remember, our education, when accurate, most definitely shouldn’t stop there.

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Twitter prioritizes blue-check verifications to confirm experts on COVID-19 and the novel coronavirus – TechCrunch

At long last, here’s an actually useful purpose for Twitter’s blue-check verification mark: Twitter last night announced that it is mobilising the badge system to help surface and signal more authoritative and verified voices that can provide “credible updates” on the topic of the coronavirus, and made a general call out for people that are experts to get all of their information up to date — including associating the word addresses with their accounts — to speed up this process.

This is the latest move from Twitter in what has been an ongoing effort to clear its platform of false information and the harmful spread of it as the pandemic increasingly takes its grip on the world.

The blue check mark was always intended to help steer people to know when they looking at more authentic voices or the official accounts for high-profile people or organizations, although it’s also been a huge vanity metric for many people, and so has often had a taint of the more ridiculous side of Twitter (the one where people also obsess over like and retweet counts). So harnessing it for a truly useful purpose is a great move.

It’s also one that is linking up with other efforts online: yesterday Google launched an updated search experience that includes a carousel of Twitter accounts Tweeting information related to the pandemic. This will help Twitter and Google populate that in a more informative and dynamic way.

If you are an expert who would like to use Twitter to broadcast more effective messages to the public, please read on. And if you are an authority who is not affiliated with one of the authorities working on fighting and managing the coronavirus outbreak, hold tight as Twitter said it will also be working on how to more quickly verify you, too.

Twitter said it is working with global health authorities — these include organizations like the WHO, the CDC, state health authorities and recognized academic institutions — to identify not just these organizations’ own accounts but those of experts affiliated with them. While it has it has “already Verified hundreds of accounts,” there are many more to verify, but the process is being slowed down by people not having all of their information in order. (Essentially these are some of the usual requirements for verification, applied specifically now to coronavirus experts.)

Specifically, Twitter said that experts needed to make sure that the email address that a person has associated with their Twitter account is their work emails. Instructions on how to do that here.

Then, Twitter said that a person’s bio needs to include references and a link to the place where they are working, and ideally that the page they are linking to also includes a reference back to the Twitter account (if it’s a link to a bio page). Instructions on how to update your profile here.

And accounts that are looking for verification, it goes without saying, have to follow the official Twitter Rules (which cover things like no harassment, impersonation accounts and so on), and specifically as it relates to coronavirus and COVID-19, Twitter’s guidance for that.

Twitter had, predictably, what looked like hundreds of responses to its Tweets on this subject, both from people simply saying, “Hey, what about me? Can I get verified today for my birthday?!” and those saying they also should be verified because of their authoritative position on COVID-19. Going about how to do the latter with accuracy will be a much bigger challenge that Twitter is still working out. “We’re also considering a way to take public suggestions, but first are reviewing the suggestions we have from global public health authorities and partners,” it concluded.

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Facebook and Twitter fight coronavirus misinformation – TechCrunch

The big social networks take steps to ensure that they’re providing accurate information for public health, Charter refuses to allow employees to work from home and Microsoft Teams sees a big spike in popularity. Here’s your Daily Crunch for March 19, 2020.

1. Facebook will put a new coronavirus info center on top of the News Feed

In an effort to disseminate trustworthy health information on COVID-19, Facebook will roll out its own coronavirus information center — a central hub where the company will collect information from sources like the CDC and WHO.

Meanwhile, Twitter updated its safety policy to prohibit tweets that “could place people at a higher risk of transmitting COVID-19.” The new policy bans tweets denying expert guidance on the virus, encouraging “fake or ineffective treatments, preventions and diagnostic techniques,” as well as tweets that mislead users by pretending to be from health authorities or experts.

2. Charter staff told to report to offices despite positive coronavirus tests

The phone and internet giant, which owns the Spectrum brand, has doubled down in the past week on its policy of disallowing its 15,000 office-based employees to work from home, prompting one engineer to quit over fears he would contract the illness. Dozens of other Charter employees have contacted TechCrunch in the past few days with concerns about their current working conditions.

3. Microsoft Teams jets to 44M DAUs, announces new features as remote work booms

Microsoft’s Team product is a Slack competitor and a likely beneficiary of the COVID-19 remote work boom. The new figure represents a huge gain on the number Microsoft shared in November 2019, when the product had 20 million DAUs.

4. Home diagnostics startup Everlywell is launching an at-home coronavirus test sample kit

Everlywell’s test kit includes swab-based collection equipment, as well as shipping materials that ensure safe transport of a person’s sample, which is then tested by labs certified for COVID-19 testing under the FDA Emergency Use Authorization.

5. The 20 best startups from Y Combinator’s W20 Demo Day

With world events overtaking the tech industry’s preference for coffee meetings and in-person events, Y Combinator skipped its famous two-day live Demo Day and went for a radical experiment: no demos at all, but instead a long list of the nearly 200 startups in its Winter 2020 batch, with links to their sites and one-page slides. (Extra Crunch membership required.)

6. Ada raises $44M Series B to improve its chatbot customer service platform

“Although AI gets thrown around a lot in the enterprise, we are focused on companies offering solutions that are driving real business value, and Ada is doing exactly that,” said Accel partner Ben Fletcher. “Ada is breaking through the crowded market of chatbots to define a new category of automated customer experience that can manage far greater customer inquiry volumes while delivering some of the strongest customer satisfaction scores we’ve seen.”

7. COVID-19 updates

While the Daily Crunch has been packed with headlines about the global pandemic, there’s still plenty of news that I’m leaving out. So if you want to stay fully up-to-date, visit our hub for COVID-19 coverage.

The Daily Crunch is TechCrunch’s roundup of our biggest and most important stories. If you’d like to get this delivered to your inbox every day at around 9am Pacific, you can subscribe here.

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US government reportedly in talks with tech companies on how to use location data in COVID-19 fight – TechCrunch

U.S. government officials are currently in discussion with a number of tech companies, including Facebook and Google, around how data from cell phones might provide methods for combating the ongoing coronavirus pandemic, according to a new Washington Post report. The talks also include health experts tracking the pandemic and its transmission, and one possible way in which said data could be useful is through aggregated, anonymized location data, per the report’s sources.

Location data taken from the smartphones of Americans could help public health experts track and map the general spread of the infection, the group has theorized, though of course the prospect of any kind of location tracking is bound to leave people uncomfortable, especially when it’s done at scale and involves not only private companies with which they have a business relationship, but also the government.

These efforts, however, would be strictly aimed at helping organizations like the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) get an overview of patterns, decoupled from any individual user identity. The Post’s sources stress that this would not involve the generation of any kind of government database, and would instead focus on anodized, aggregated data to inform modeling of the COVID-19 transmission and spread.

Already, we’ve seen unprecedented collaboration among some of the largest tech companies in the world on matters related to the coronavirus pandemic. Virtually every large tech company that operates a product involved in information dissemination came together on Monday to issue a statement about working closely together in order to fight the spread of fraud and disinformation about the virus.

The White House has also been consulting with tech companies around the virus and the U.S. response, including via a meeting last week that included Amazon, Apple, Facebook, Google, Microsoft and Twitter, and Amazon CEO Jeff Bezos has been in regular contact with the current administration as his company is increasingly playing a central and important role in how people are dealing with essentially global guidelines of isolation, social distancing, quarantine and even shelter-in-place orders.

Earlier this week, an open letter co-signed by a lengthy list of epidemiologists, executives, physicians and academics also sought to outline what tech companies could contribute to the ongoing effort to stem the COVID-19 pandemic, and one of the measures suggested (directed at mobile OS providers Apple and Google specifically) is an “opt-in, privacy preserving OS feature to support contact tracing” for individuals who might have been exposed to someone with the virus.

Of course, regardless of assurances to the contrary, it’s natural to be suspicious of any widespread effort to collect personal data. Especially when it has historically been the case that in times of extreme duress, people have made trade-offs about personal freedoms and protections that have subsequently backfired. The New York Times also reported this week on an initiative to track the location data of people who have contracted the virus using an existing, previously undisclosed database of cellphone data from Israeli cellphone selfie providers and their customers.

Still, there’s good reason not to instantly dismiss the idea of trying to find some kind of privacy-protecting way of harnessing the information available to tech companies, since it does seem like a way to potentially provide a lot of benefit — particularly when it comes to measuring the impact of social distancing measures currently in place.

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Oura raises $28 million for its health and sleep tracking ring – TechCrunch

Smart rings are still a relatively young category in the wearable hardware world, but the Oura Ring seems to be a standout in terms of early success. The Oura Ring hardware is sleek and packed with sensors, allowing it to measure a user’s sleep patterns, take your body temperature and track activity, and now Oura has raised $28 million in Series B funding to bring on new key hires and product updates.

In a Medium post announcing the raise, Oura CEO Harpreet Singh Rai revealed that to date, the company has sold over 150,000 of its rings since launch (which was in early 2018) and that its team has grown to over 100 people globally. The Series B funding comes from Forerunner Ventures, which has a strong track record when it comes to direct-to-consumer product company investments, as well as from Gradient Ventures and Square.

Along with the investment, Oura gains two new board members, and one new board observer all with expertise in different aspects of the startup’s business: Forerunner’s Eurie Kim and Square’s hardware lead Jesse Dorogusker are the new board members, and Gradient partner (and former VP of engineering at Google) Anna Patterson joins as the observer.

Oura will be revamping its website and adding a new web-based portal for Oura Ring users that offers “actionable insights,” the company says, and it’s going to be doing more in terms of collaborating with academic researchers on ensuring its products measurements and guidance remain as accurate and useful as possible.

Oura prioritizes the role of sleep in terms of its contribution to health, and has also recently ventured into the realm of meditation, but it acts as a general fitness tracking device as well. It has attracted a number of fans among the plugged-in tech elite, too, including Twitter and Square CEO Jack Dorsey. The company deserves kudos for delivering a solid, attractive and feature-rich gadget in a category that seemed like a tough sell in the early offing, and this new funding is a good vote of confidence.

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Amazon CEO Jeff Bezos has been in regular contact with the White House on coronavirus pandemic – TechCrunch

During a White House briefing on Monday detailing new recommendations regarding public health from the administration’s coronavirus task force and the CDC, President Trump was asked by a member of the press corps about reports that the White House is in “daily” contact with Amazon CEO Jeff Bezos regarding the COVID-19 epidemic.

Trump’s answer wasn’t exactly a clear confirmation, but did seem to indicate that the Amazon founder and chief executive has been working with the White House in some capacity as the situation develops. Upon request for clarification, an Amazon spokesperson confirmed to TechCrunch that “Jeff Bezos has been in contact with the White House” regarding the coronavirus epidemic.

“Well I’ve heard that’s true,” Trump said during the briefing. “I don’t know that for a fact. But I know that some of my people have, as I understand it, been dealing with them or with him. And that’s nice. We’ve had tremendous support from a lot of people that can help, and I believe he was one of them.”

Last week, Fox Business first reported that the White House would be meeting with large tech companies in an effort to help coordinate efforts to contain the virus, and that those meetings would include Facebook, Google, Amazon, Twitter, Apple and Microsoft.

It’s still not clear in what capacity Bezos is working with the White House on the coronavirus pandemic, but Amazon is clearly feeling the impact of the global virus outbreak, including a surge in demand that’s led to it seek to hire 100,000 additional employees for warehouse and delivery in the U.S.

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Bored at home? Come hang out with TechCrunch at 12:30pm PT on a live call – TechCrunch

Are you working from home? Are you lonely? Do you miss human interaction? Did you finally get your home office setup looking good? Then join us today for our first-ever (and possibly last) TechCrunch -Equity Livestream-Hangout Extravaganza.

From Team Equity we’ll have Danny Crichton, Alex Wilhelm, new addition Natasha Mascarenhas, our producer Chris Gates, TechCrunch Editorial Director Henry Pickavet, and perhaps even some puppies. It’s BYOB, naturally, but if it’s after lunch where you are, cocktails are allowed.

We’ll have a loose agenda of things to argue about, but it won’t be as much fun as it could be without you.

So join us here on Zoom. And make sure to check out TechCrunch’s Twitter handle at @TechCrunch for updates just in case we can’t figure out how to Zoom into anything.

That’s it, really. We’re excited to try this out and we’re excited to see you. Cameras on, let’s go!

Equity drops every Friday at 6:00 am PT, so subscribe to us on Apple PodcastsOvercastSpotify and all the casts.

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