Facebook adds coronavirus information center and free workplace access to emergency services

During a press briefing, Mark Zuckerberg announced next steps Facebook is taking to keep platform users safe and well-informed.

During a press briefing on Wednesday, Facebook announced the latest efforts to keep the public safe and informed about the novel coronavirus. Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg outlined two key steps, which included a new coronavirus information center for all users, as well as access to Workplace by Facebook for emergency services and government employees. 

SEE: Coronavirus: Critical IT policies and tools every business needs (TechRepublic Premium)

Zuckerberg emphasized his mission of spreading "authoritative" information to Facebook users, particularly when it comes to the coronavirus pandemic. 

This sentiment comes just after a major malfunction in Facebook's News Feed spam filter on Tuesday, which blocked legitimate website links and interfered with users sharing them. Some of these links led to important coronavirus information.

Facebook became aware of the problem and by Tuesday evening, the glitch was reportedly resolved. 

"We've restored all the posts that were incorrectly removed, which included posts on all topics - not just those related to COVID-19. This was an issue with an automated system that removes links to abusive websites, but incorrectly removed a lot of other posts too," Guy Rosen, vice president of integrity at Facebook, said in a tweet

New efforts from Facebook 

  • Coronavirus information center

In partnership with the World Health Organization (WHO) and Centers for Disease and Control Prevention (CDC), Facebook is launching a hub for coronavirus information that will appear at the top of users' feeds. 

"We've been coordinating with a lot of governments around the world to find the best messages to encourage [in the information center]," Zuckerberg said. "The broad consensus is to encourage people to take social distancing seriously, even those who don't feel like they are personally at risk." 

The information center will feature content from celebrities and health experts outlining best practices for life during the coronavirus crisis. The center is adaptive, which means it will be updated with the latest information as it changes day to day, Zuckerberg said. 

"The goal is to have [the information center] out very widely. I don't have a number with the number of languages it will be in," Zuckerberg said. "Our goal is to launch it and have it promoted at the top of the Facebook app in ITaly, France, Germany, the US, and UK as soon as possible, and in the next few days we want to expand it more broadly. Obviously, it's an evolving situation." 

  • Facebook Workplace for crisis responders 

The second major step Facebook is taking involves the collaboration of those working in crisis response, according to Zuckerberg. 

"People need communication and social services in these times when responding to disasters," Zuckerberg said. "Workplace has become so critical to coordinating large groups on Facebook." 

Zuckerberg said he is making Workplace free of charge for government and emergency services for the next 12 months. Regular pricing starts at $4 per user per month for Advanced and $8 per user per month for Enterprise. With this interface, these groups can communicate easily and effectively, share ideas, and keep entire teams up to date, all with the familiar Facebook interface.  

Previous Facebook efforts during coronavirus 

The spam filter issue was definitely brought up during the press call. Zuckerberg said the bug has been fixed and was not related to the coronavirus. 

"It was just a technical error, we are still doing the postmortem to figure out what happened," Zuckerberg said. "Not because of our approach on coronavirus or our approach on contingent workers or content moderators working from home."

Other than that hiccup, Facebook has made concerted efforts to thwart misinformation, support health experts and relief efforts, and bolster local governments, communities, and businesses, Zuckerberg said. 

In the past couple months, Facebook has integrated a promotion at the top of each page that links users to the CDC for accurate, current information. Additionally, Facebook has given the WHO, CDC, and local health organizations unlimited ad credits to help spread their information, according to Zuckerberg. 

Details of those missions are explored in a press release from Facebook on Wednesday. 

Within the Facebook organization itself, Zuckerberg said nearly all employees have been encouraged to work from home. The only employees that are not are those running "critical functions like keeping servers running and security...things that can't be done at home," Zuckerberg said. 

Contractors and contingent workers are also allowed to work from home, including content moderators. Zuckerberg said he wants to make sure all employees are being paid in full, even if the employees can't completely conduct their jobs from home. 

"We want to make sure we are doing our part," Zuckerberg said. "I've been proud of the tech industry's response overall." 

For more, check out Coronavirus: What business pros need to know on TechRepublic.   

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JOSH EDELSON