Update on Facebook’s Efforts to Support the COVID-19 Response in Australia and New Zealand

Mia Garlick, Director of Policy for Australia, New Zealand & the Pacific – April 3, 2020

We wanted to share another update on our response to COVID-19 focused on trends that we’re seeing on our services as the community responds to this global health crisis, our further work to connect Australians and New Zealanders with official information and how the community is coming together to support each other through this crisis. This is in addition to updates we posted on 10 March and 23 March.


Trends on our services

As the pandemic expands and more people practice physically distancing, the use of online services is unprecedented across the industry, and we are experiencing new records in usage almost every day. This also means that many more people are using our apps during this time. We shared a global update last week on how this is impacting our services to give context to the loads we are managing.

In many of the countries hit hardest by the virus, total messaging has increased more than 50% over the last month. Similarly, in places hit hardest by the virus, voice and video calls have more than doubled on Messenger and WhatsApp.

We’re seeing a significant increase in both Instagram Live and Facebook Live usage, especially as more and more celebrities and musicians turn to these channels to stay connected with their fans. In Australia, Instagram Live views alone have doubled in the past week. In New Zealand, Instagram Live views have increased more than 80% in the last week.

We wanted to provide more specific updates from the last week about connecting people with official information and helping communities come together on Facebook and Instagram.


Connecting people with official information

We have continued our efforts to elevate official sources of information and connect people with the latest updates from the Australian Government, the New Zealand Government, and the World Health Organization.


WhatsApp chatbots

In the last week, both the Australian and New Zealand Governments have launched chatbots on WhatsApp to help people easily access the latest information. In both countries, we worked with the respective government agencies and Turn.io and, in Australia, we also worked with Australian technology firm Atlassian. We also supported each government with campaign support and advertising credits to raise awareness about the chatbots.

Details for how to access and use the chatbots are available on the Facebook Australia Page and the Facebook New Zealand Page.

Coronavirus Information Centre

In the last week, we also launched the Coronavirus Information Centre in both Australia and New Zealand. The Coronavirus Information Centre helps elevate official information and provides information and tips from authoritative Facebook Pages, including the Australian Department of Health and the New Zealand Ministry of Health and Ministry for Pacific Peoples (which is translating information into multiple Pasifika languages).

The Information Centre is now the first item that comes up if you search “coronavirus” or related terms on Facebook. We have also sent alerts to people using our services about the Information Centre to ensure that they are aware of this resource.

Australia is also one of the first countries in the world to have the Community Help feature in the Coronavirus Information Centre, a place for people to request or offer help to neighbours, such as volunteering to deliver groceries or donating to a local food pantry or fundraiser. We saw great use of this tool by thousands of Australians when it was available as part of the Safety Check for the Australian summer bushfires, and, as part of the Coronavirus Information Centre, it will help enable the community-mindedness that is appearing throughout the community during the crisis.

You can access Community Help in the Coronavirus Information Center on Facebook or by visiting facebook.com/covidsupport.

Combating harmful health misinformation and reducing the distribution of misinformation

We remove COVID-19-related misinformation that could contribute to imminent physical harm. We’ve removed harmful misinformation since 2018, including false information about the measles in Samoa which could have furthered an outbreak, and rumors about the polio vaccine in Pakistan which risked harm to health aid workers. Since January, we’ve applied this policy to misinformation about COVID-19 and are removing posts such as:

  • False claims about cures: drinking warm water, drinking bleach
  • False preventions: taking vitamin C, garlic
  • Misinformation that discourages treatment: physical distancing doesn’t work
  • Verifiably false claims about access to health and essential services: a specific hospital is closed and will not permit anyone with a fever
  • Claims that undercount/underestimate the severity of the outbreak: COVID-19 is not in Australia

We are conducting proactive sweeps to find and remove as much of this content as we can. We regularly update the claims that we remove based on guidance from the WHO and other health authorities.

For claims that don’t directly result in physical harm, like conspiracy theories about the origin of the virus, we continue to work with our network of third-party fact-checkers, which includes AAP and AFP. To support the global fact-checking community’s work on COVID-19, we partnered with the Independent Fact-Checking Network to launch a $1 million grant program to increase their capacity during this time. This week we also announced we have extended our fact-checking initiative to New Zealand and the Pacific.


Communities coming together on Facebook and Instagram

As part of the increased internet usage, a trend across Facebook and Instagram is people coming together to support each other and stay safe and healthy during this crisis. There are many fitness, dance, and workout sessions being held via Facebook Live and Instagram Live.

More than 100,000 people in Australia are members of over 200 new COVID-19 local support groups on Facebook. On Instagram, #stayhome is the top Instagram hashtag in Australia for the past week and #socialdistancing#selfisolation, and #supportsmallbusiness were also in the top hashtags in the country.

In the first week since its launching, the “Stay Home” sticker in Instagram Stories was launched, it was used over 100M times on Instagram globally.

In New Zealand, during the lockdown, Kiwis are using our platforms to connect, share positivity, and support one another during the COVID-19 outbreak, including at #nzlockdown#lockdownnz and #Stayhome

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