In a week that began with a full moon, featured a Friday the 13th and closes out the weekend with the Ides of March, one might have anticipated the news wouldn’t be good.
But the steady escalation of cases, concerns and cautionary measures surrounding COVID-19 have moved into uncharted waters and nearly surreal circumstances.
For those looking for a piece of good news amid the bleak, here is something that might bring some comfort. Tech companies are using their superpowers for good and are helping spread factual information from reliable sources.
That’s a big departure from the recent history when Google and other tech giants refused to interfere with their almighty algorithms, even in the name of public safety.
In the wake of the COVID-19 pandemic, however, that tune has changed.
A coronavirus Google search now triggers what Google refers to as an SOS alert, pulling news from mainstream publications including National Public Radio along with information from the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and the World Health Organization. Bloomberg Tech reports that, in contrast, a recent Google search for “flu season” showed the website verywellhealth.com at the top, while another search for “flu” produced tweets, including one from President Trump a couple of weeks ago that compared the novel coronavirus to the common flu.
Now, Google is helping get fact-based information into the hands of its users. That helps all of us — as in, all people in the world. That might sound like hyperbole, but it’s not. The more people who understand that this isn’t just hype, that washing hands and staying out of crowds will help stem the tide of pandemic, the sooner the virus can be contained.
Similarly, employees of YouTube (owned by Google) are working hard to pull down posted videos that claim to have alternative ways to prevent or treat COVID-19. That, too, is a positive departure from YouTube’s refusal last year to intervene when a search for immunizations returned search results and recommendations for videos that describe vaccines as dangerous and harmful.
Google even has had to ban apps posted in the app store that make claims of cures and defy medical advice.
While some viewers can see through junk science, in the midst of a pandemic, it’s important tech companies become proactive against misinformation and scams.
Twitter, Facebook, Pinterest and other sites similarly have stepped up.
It’s troubling to know that there are people trying to profit from a national emergency and global outbreak of illness, but such is the world in which we live.
Combatting those forces is costing the tech companies money.
Google Chief Executive Officer Sundar Pichai said in a memo that the company has blocked tens of thousands of ads capitalizing on the coronavirus over the last few weeks. It’s also helping WHO and government organizations run public service announcements.
Good for Google.
If desperate times call for desperate measures, then frightening times call for sensible measures. It’s good to see the tech companies that have become such a huge part of American life taking an aggressive role in combating something truly harmful.