Amid an ongoing effort by Google to counter the deluge of misinformation and conspiracy theories about the coronavirus pandemic, the tech giant said Tuesday it will devote up to $3 million to back fact-checking initiatives to counter vaccine misinformation, which it says has emerged as a particularly troubling phenomenon as global immunization efforts get underway.
The Covid-19 Vaccine Counter-Misinformation Open Fund is intended to support journalistic “projects that aim to broaden the audience of fact checks,” particularly in audiences “disproportionately affected by misinformation,” the tech giant announced in a blog post.
Google said that while the Covid-19 “infodemic has been global in nature, misinformation has also been used to target specific populations,” adding that these populations are not necessarily the ones seeking fact checks.
The rollout of Covid-19 vaccines across the globe is “exacerbating a perennial problem of misinformation about immunization,” Google said, explaining that the fund will “support additional debunking efforts” to complement its existing efforts to tackle coronavirus misinformation.
Applications will be assessed by a team of 14 “Googlers” from around the world and are open to news organizations of all sizes “that have a proven track record in fact-checking and debunking activities” or those partnering with such an organization.
As the dominant online search engine, Google is a key gateway to information about the coronavirus pandemic, vaccines and treatment. Google and YouTube, which are both owned by parent company Alphabet, have struggled to control the rampant misinformation that proliferates on their platforms, much of which has occurred alongside U.S. election-related falsehoods and conspiracy theories such as QAnon, which postulates that Donald Trump is waging a secret war against a global pedophile ring of Satan-worshiping Democrats, celebrities and billionaires. While Google and YouTube have endeavored to tackle this disinformation through fact-checking, content moderation and policy changes — groups peddling pandemic-related falsehoods and misinformation have still managed to thrive and even achieve “financial viability and success” using Google and its vast advertising network, according to research from Oxford Internet Institute.
Investigating the most convincing COVID-19 conspiracy theories (King’s College London)
Failure to Act. How tech giants continue to defy calls to rein in vaccine misinformation (Center for Countering Digital Hate)