Government and Tech Platforms are uniting to deliver accurate and quality messaging to the public in the wake of COVID-19 

A global spotlight is currently on world health, and our global community is facing a time of uncertainty and enforced precautions as the state of coronavirus evolves across the planet.

Now more than ever, people are looking for accurate and up-to-date information on COVID-19 and Wednesday (11th March) evening marked a “Digital Dunkirk” of sorts at Downing Street, with the UK government inviting major technology companies – including Google Deepmind, Microsoft, Apple, Facebook, Uber and Palantir – to discuss the potential impact disinformation linked to the virus could have, and the roles technology platforms need to play in protecting the public from misleading news.

Debates around fake news and harmful content is not something new, but the historically these discussions have centred around the impact to advertisers and users in relation to brand safety. If this week’s congregation of technology juggernauts at No.10 teaches us anything – it’s that this narrow focus is expanding – and we are seeing the birth of a “digital public safety” concept.

The role of technology companies in the push to uphold digital public safety is essential, and we have already seen steps being taken to put practical support in place:  

  • In Seattle Microsoft, Amazon and others have partnered with non-profits and governments to launch a relief fund in response to the coronavirus outbreak
  • Amazon offered its video conferencing tools and other aspects of its cloud computing services to the health service for free.
  • Uber showed willing to provide free taxi rides to medical staff, and Deliveroo offered to keep hospital workers fed.

Focusing on Microsoft, President Brad Smith announced in a blog post on Monday that the company will gift $1million to the COVID-19 Response Fund and match all employee donations to causes that aid in the response to COVID-19. (Individuals and companies can donate to the response fund here.)

Mr Smith expressed that this show of front-line response will “support rental assistance to keep people housed; help ensure children, seniors and families have access to food; and support healthcare workers”

These examples show that “tech for good” is reaching new heights and pushing to another level.

The reality is, technology platforms can reach the population with accurate information in a way that many traditional media outlets cannot.

Question marks will be raised over the long-term impact of allowing a large number of private companies to work with the healthcare system’s data – but for now, Government and the technology sector need to be unified to prioritise the care of the nation above anything else. Together they can work towards shifting priorities from business brand safety to public safety – a valiant task that the global community will benefit from in a time of ambiguity.