Many elected leaders in the United States have been similarly irresponsible. President Donald Trump has consistently misrepresented the scale and response to the coronavirus in the United States. He has disputed the mortality rate. He has claimed the coronavirus is no worse than a flu. He has circulated inaccurate medical advice. Some media organisations had also spread misinformation of this nature, although most have since changed their tune as the number of infections in the United States skyrockets. American politicians have also pushed the conspiracy that the virus originated in a lab in China.

Technology companies appear to be taking the challenge seriously, with some success. YouTube, Twitter, and Facebook have each made commitments to cleanse their sites of disinformation using existing tools, while working with the WHO to direct users to credible advice. Facebook’s Mark Zuckerberg posted:

As our community standards make clear, it’s not okay to share something that puts people in danger. We’re removing false claims and conspiracy theories that have been flagged by leading global health organisations.

Wikipedia’s approach has been to apply more stringent rules, rather than existing standards, with better results.

Moderating public platforms is only a fraction of the challenge. All of my mum’s inaccurate information was circulated on WhatsApp, the world’s most-popular messaging app, with 1.6 billion active users. Others such as Facebook Messenger and China’s WeChat both have over a billion users. These are effectively a locked box for content moderators.

These platforms were already struggling with the daily deluge of fake news. Now they also need to figure out how to respond to senior government figures using their platforms to spread lies. The Covid-19 crisis is a public health crisis, an economic crisis, and an information crisis.