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The coronavirus believed to have originated at a market in the Chinese city of Wuhan had killed more than 360 people and infected more than 17,000, most of them in China, on Monday.

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Online misinformation surrounding the coronavirus includes misguided home remedies, wildly inflated death rates, fake public health warnings, xenophobic posts targeting people of Asian appearance and conspiracy theories claiming that the virus was deliberately released.

Mr Singh said the platforms could help authorities to “get a clear picture” of how widespread particular pieces of misinformation had spread, to aid their efforts at countering it with facts.

“This would help the public be more sceptical of what they see, and also know whether they’re being targeted,” he said.

“The platforms could include demographic context about where this is being particularly shared and also flag if this content is coming from bad or foreign actors.”

Australian Medical Association president Tony Bartone backed the call, saying “it makes sense” for platforms to publish a list of the most-viral posts.

“We need to ensure the information the public’s getting is the most accurate and reliable,” Dr Bartone said.

Facebook announced on Friday that it would start removing posts that included false claims or conspiracy theories about the virus that had been flagged by health authorities, with a focus on content that discouraged people from getting medical treatment or made potentially dangerous claims about cures.

The company will also limit the spread of posts debunked by its third-party fact checkers, sending users who shared the post a notification, and boost content from WHO-approved sources in users’ news feeds.

Mr Singh welcomed the measures, but said more action was needed.

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“Removing content is a start, but it doesn’t help correct the misinformation served up to someone before it’s removed,” he said.

Twitter has started taking down accounts that spread misinformation about the virus, banning financial market website Zero Hedge from the social media platform after it published an article linking a Chinese scientist to the coronavirus outbreak, in what the company said had violated its rules against “abuse and harassment”.

Twitter users who search for information about coronavirus are now given a link to the Department of Health and WHO websites on coronavirus.

YouTube and Google have started promoting authoritative information about the virus to the top of search results, with Google users who search for information on the virus now seeing an “SOS Alert” linking to WHO information on the outbreak.

Responsible Technology Australia is a lobby group pushing for regulation of social media.

With Reuters

Dana is health and industrial relations reporter for The Sydney Morning Herald and The Age.

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