WHO Practicing “Social Listening,” Surveilling Covid19 Conversations to Counter With Their Own Propaganda

Headlines Health Politics Technology U.S. World

The World Health Organization is working with other U.N. organizations and artificial Intelligence companies to scan social media conversations for coronavirus misinformation – a practice the WHO calls “social listening.”

“Countering fake news or rumors is actually only responding or mitigating when it’s too late,” said Tim Nguyen, a technology expert helping the WHO’s unit titled Information Network for Epidemics (EPI-WIN). “What we’ve put in place in the beginning of the pandemic is what we call a social listening approach.”

The company scans more than 1.6 million social media posts each week to monitor the online narrative around the coronavirus. It then uses software to classify the information into four topics; cause, illness, interventions, and treatments. The WHO’s aim is to learn the coronavirus narratives that are gaining popularity so that it can then create its own content to counteract.

“What we’ve learned now, after two and a half months of doing this kind of analysis, is that there are recurring themes and topics that are coming back over and over again,” Nguyen explained. “What that means to us is that we need to re-push information at different times. People may not understand it the first time when we push it, but when the questions and issues come up later, it means it’s time to push it out again.”

The WHO is also pushing their efforts in radio – an effort to reach those without internet access. Their content is already being pushed out in the African nation of Uganda.

“You need to have a certain degree of good information out there to reach populations so that they are inoculated and not susceptible to fake news or disinformation. We believe we need to vaccinate 30% of the population with ‘good information’ in order to have a certain degree of ‘herd’ immunity against misinformation,” Nguyen said.

Join the discussion