On Friday the World Health Organization took the fight against online health misinformation to TikTok, the same day it elevated its coronavirus threat assessment to the organisation’s highest possible level.
“We are on the highest level of alert or highest level of risk assessment in terms of spread and in terms of impact,” said Dr. Mike Ryan, head of WHO’s health emergencies programme, at a recent press conference in Geneva. “This is a reality check for every government on the planet: Wake up. Get ready. This virus may be on its way and you need to be ready. You have a duty to your citizens, you have a duty to the world to be ready.”
The announcement came amidst news that, as of Friday, more than 4,300 cases of the new coronavirus in at least 48 countries have been confirmed, including 67 deaths.
According to WHO Director-General Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, there isn’t any “evidence as of yet that the virus is spreading freely in communities”, but minimising your health risks in these kinds of outbreaks can’t hurt. That’s why for its first TikTok, WHO – the public health arm of the United Nations – demonstrates what the average person can do to help shield themselves from the new coronavirus.
In the video, Benedetta Allegranzi, the group’s technical lead of infection prevention, directs viewers to WHO’s website and walks through a few sanitary precautions like washing your hands frequently and how to properly cover a cough or sneeze. Which are honestly just best practices you should adopt every day, ongoing global outbreak or not.
She also breaks down when to contact your doctor (if you’re having symptoms like coughing, fever and respiratory problems) and when to simply try to stay inside and wait it out (if you haven’t travelled recently and only have mild symptoms).
“We are joining @tiktok to provide you with reliable and timely public health advice,” the video’s description reads. The organisation did not immediately respond to Gizmodo’s request for comment.
WHO isn’t the first major global organisation to start using TikTok to help set the record straight about the ongoing outbreak. Both Unicef and the Red Cross have begun pushing out videos to tackle rumours, myths and memes because, after all, this is the Internet we’re talking about. A place where some people are daft enough to fake videos of themselves becoming infected or claim they’ve been diagnosed with COVID-19, the disease caused by this novel coronavirus, to get those sweet views.
A company spokesperson told Gizmodo via email that TikTok’s committed to working in tandem with WHO’s efforts “as part of fostering a safe community for our users”.
“For TikTok users who explore hashtags related to the coronavirus, we also provide easy access from the app to the WHO website and other trusted resources,” the TikTok spokesperson continued. “Our in-app notice also reminds users to report content that violates our Community Guidelines, which includes misinformation that could cause harm to our community or the larger public.”
Other social media platforms such as Twitter and Facebook have adopted similar strategies to help keep legitimate health resources near the top of search results regarding the virus. On top of curbing the spread of conspiracies and myths about COVID-19, Facebook, Amazon and other e-commerce sites also recently gained another fearmongering headache: a burgeoning market for products aiming to profit off coronavirus fears with some good, old-fashioned snake-oil salesmanship.
Featured photo: Lionel Bonaventure (Getty)