With COVID-19 vaccines about to arrive, it’s important that the public be well informed — especially since misinformation is rampant on both COVID-19 and vaccines. To that end, Google is launching a new Search feature that will display a list of authorized vaccines in your location, as well as information panels on each type of vaccine.
Google notes that with COVID-19 vaccinations set to arrive on an “unprecedented pace and scale,” it’s crucial to address “vaccine misperceptions and hesitance.” The feature is launching in the UK because it’s the first Western country to approve and distribute a COVID-19 vaccine to its population. “As health authorities begin authorizing vaccines, we’ll introduce this new feature in more countries,” wrote Google’s chief health officer Karen DeSalvo, MD and Kristie Canegallo, VP of trust and safety.
Google notes that similar COVID-19 information panels have been viewed 400 billion times on YouTube. In October, YouTube banned misinformation about the pandemic that contradicts information from the World Health Organization (WHO) or local health authorities. That followed a similar move from Facebook, which said in August this year that it had removed 7 million posts for coronavirus misinformation.
Now, the Google News Initiative is providing an additional $1.5 million to fund the creation of a COVID-19 Vaccine Media Hub and support new fact-checking research..
Earlier this year, Google gave $6.5 million to fund COVID-19 fact-checking initiatives for reporters. Now, Google News will provide an additional $1.5 million to fund a COVID-19 Vaccine Media Hub led by the Australian Science Media Centre, with support from media centers and public health experts around the world.
It’s also funding research by academics at Columbia, George Washington and Ohio State universities to counteract vaccine misinformation. “This research project will survey citizens in ten countries to find out what kinds of formats, headlines and sources are most effective in correcting COVID-19 vaccine misinformation and whether fact checks that follow these best practices impact willingness to get vaccinated.”
Google has often been accused of spreading fake news, and COVID-19 has been called “the perfect storm for the diffusion of false rumor and fake news.” So far, however, Google has been highly proactive in scrubbing pandemic misinformation from Search and YouTube. It appears to be keeping that posture with the arrival of vaccines — which have their own sad legacy around misinformation and conspiracy theories.