Like many sectors, the COVID-19 crisis is presenting social media platforms with immense challenges, along with some unique opportunities.
As the world shelters in place, people are leaning more on social platforms to stay in touch safely, share potentially life-saving information, and simply pass the time.
Indeed, the number of people participating in group video calls via Facebook Messenger shot up by about 70% over the past week, according to data obtained by CNet.
People are also relying more on social platforms to stay up to date on local, national, and global news related to the pandemic.
“The use of social media has increased significantly as citizens turn to it for COVID-19 related news,” Cyrus Mewawalla, head of thematic research at GlobalData, notes in a new report.
By some estimates, it seems like COVID-19 is the only thing that people are talking about online.
On March 11, for example, there were more than 19 million mentions related to COVID-19 across social channels, blogs and online news sites, according to a global estimate from social analytics firm Sprinkr.
To put that figure into perspective, Sprinkr counted about 4 million mentions of Donald Trump on the same day.
Unfortunately, experts suspect that a significant share of COVID-19-related conversations is infected by fake or misleading information.
“Given the novelty of the disease and the fast-changing nature of related news, it’s safe to assume that a large portion was inaccurate or outdated,” Jasmine Enberg, a senior analyst of global trends and social media at eMarketer, suggests in a new blog post.
Therein lies the greatest challenge facing social platforms, Mewawalla, Enberg, and other analysts seem to believe.
The problem is so bad that the World Health Organization (WHO) has labeled fake news on COVID-19 an “infodemic,” according to Mewawalla.
In response, Facebook and other platforms have begun working directly with the WHO, Centers for Disease Control, and local health and government organizations to slow the spread of bad information.
Facebook is also providing the WHO with as many free ads as it needs, while blocking ads from brands suggestive of exploiting the pandemic for their own gain.
In addition, top platforms -- including Facebook, LinkedIn, reddit, Twitter and YouTube -- recently agreed to work together to suppress pandemic-related misinformation.
While applauding the effort, Enberg said it reveals just how hard it is for platforms to effectively quell bad information.“The concerted effort among the platforms shows just how much work it takes to significantly reduce the spread,” she said. “It also raises larger questions about social media’s ability to police platforms outside of a global health emergency.”