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Facebook, Twitter Struggle To Stop Spread Of Coronavirus Conspiracies

Misinformation about coronavirus continues to spread worldwide despite efforts and pledges by social media companies to eliminate fake news.

One post on Facebook says the U.S. patented a vaccine years ago for the coronavirus. It is a hoax.

The false information was posted on January 21, and was still up a week later on a public page, despite being linked to in a story by the Factcheck.org about it and other posts spreading inaccurate information on Facebook.

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The post has been shared 4,800 times and has hundreds of comments.

One comment on the false Facebook post includes a link to a website that calls the coronavirus itself a hoax and suggests that drinking Corona beer alone will cure the virus.

Another comment to the Facebook post links to a website that alleges the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation is connected to the recent disease outbreak.

In 2018 Bill Gates warned that a flu pandemic could wipe out millions of people across the world.

In an attempt to combat the coronavirus, the foundation announced it would commit $US10 million to help frontline responders to contain the virus.

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The Facebook post also claims world health authorities will soon cut off access to the Internet, or force social media sites to suppress what it says is the truth about the virus.

And yet, the Facebook posts live on, as do others.

In the wake of the 2016 presidential election, in which U.S. intelligence officials believe Russia used Facebook and other social media outlets to spread false news and help sway the outcome to Donald Trump, the social media giant has pledged to fight misinformation on its website.

The virus has killed more than 100 people in China. Image: Getty

Facebook formed an alliance with media outlets and other fact-checkers, including FactCheck.org, to help it determine what news was false and either remove the posts or label them as fake.

After much criticism, Facebook banned InfoWars' Alex Jones from the platform after the spread numerous conspiracies, including that the 2012 Sandy Hook school shooting in the U.S was staged.

Last month, Jones was ordered to pay $100,000 to one victim's family for his statements about the shooting.

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Facebook has run an ad campaign with posters that read "Fake news is not your friend."

More recently, the social media giant weathered criticism on its decision to allow political advertising with no fact-checking.

Twitter, by contrast, has said it won't allow political advertising on its service.

But the coronavirus episode shows that Facebook's ability to crack down on fake news, and its willingness to do so, is still limited at best.

Facebook, through a spokesperson, described to CBS MoneyWatch its third-party fact-checking partnerships as "dramatically reducing" the company's distribution of false news.

A passenger wearing a protective mask on arrival at Sydney International Airport. Image: AAP

"This situation [with the coronavirus] is fast-evolving and we will continue our outreach to global and regional health organisations to provide support and assistance," a Facebook spokesperson said.

Facebook inserts a pop-up that displays the warning: "False Information - Checked by independent fact-checkers" on a number of coronavirus posts.

One pop-up example includes a false post that claims the U.S. government has had a coronavirus vaccine for years but is not manufacturing it to create and encourage fear.

The death toll has risen and there are fears it could continue to climb. Image: Getty

Coronavirus is a class of viruses that were identified years ago, many of which do have patented treatments.

The strain of coronavirus that is believed to have originated in Wuhan, China, and is currently spreading and worrying health officials is new and has no known cure.

Medical staff transfer patients to Jinyintan hospital. Image: EPA

Twitter is also having trouble containing the plague of coronavirus-falsehood contamination.

For instance, Facebook has put a pop-up blocking a post with a screenshot of a tweet by prominent conspiracy theorist Jordan Sather that appears to be one of the first making the false patent claim, and even called coronavirus a "fad."

On Twitter, however, where Sather has 115,500 followers, the tweet remains live and unblocked. It has been retweeted 4,700 times and liked nearly 6,000 times.