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How social media are responding to virus

Blame the platform, not the user.

Critics who blame major social media platforms for enabling the spread of misdeeds and misinformation have uttered those words more than once.

But today is not one of those days.

This is because Facebook and friends have stepped up their response to dealing with the coronavirus. In truth, they’ve been preparing for this for weeks — long before the first cases were detected in the U.S.

Just as quickly as the virus has spread around the world, so too has misinformation about everything from data on those infected to how we can protect ourselves, and what to do if we think we’re infected.

Each of the major social media platforms announced plans — some as far back as late January and some as recent as yesterday — as to how we can stay safe at home and on their sites.

Here’s what they’re doing.

* Twitter — If you’re looking for advice on how best to use social media in a time like this, Twitter suggests following @WHO (World Health Organization) on their platform. Also consider following local or national health leaders, like the @CDC (Centers for Disease Control).

“Seek out authoritative health information and ignore the noise,” Twitter posted earlier this month.

Twitter also wants to know if someone is using the pandemic to take advantage of unsuspecting users. If you see something suspicious or abusive, you can report an individual tweet or an entire a profile for Twitter to review.

“Most importantly, think before you tweet,” Twitter added.

They provide longer pieces of information that help tell the full story of what’s happening around the world. Share those stories to be sure you’re providing your followers with accurate information.

Twitter encourages educators and parents to consult their media literacy guide. For more on Twitter’s response, visit blog.twitter.com.

* Facebook — With more than 2 billion users, one could argue that Facebook is an efficient medium for distributing official virus-related information.

The world’s largest platform started posting updates to their newsroom in January, and continuously updates their site. The most recent update was posted last week.

Facebook is limiting misinformation about the virus while connecting people to accurate information and helpful resources like the WHO. Just as with other misleading information posted to their platform, Facebook is prohibiting ads intended to create panic or imply that certain products guarantee a cure or prevent people from contracting the coronavirus.

They’re also “temporarily banning ads and commerce listings selling medical face masks” and giving the WHO as many free ads as they need for their coronavirus response.

* Instagram — Over on the Facebook-owned image-sharing platform, Instagram is adding additional measures to keep users updated with facts.

“We’re working to keep the Instagram community safe and informed on COVID-19,” Instagram posted to their Twitter account last week. “We’re removing known harmful misinformation related to COVID-19, and when someone taps on a hashtag related to COVID-19, we show resources from @WHO, @CDC and local health authorities.”

Remember to always check local and national media outlets when trying to determine if what you’re seeing on social media is fact or fiction.

• Dr. Adam Earnheardt is chair of the department of communication at Youngstown State University. Follow him on Twitter at @adamearn and on his blog at www.adamearn.com.