Facebook Can Help Defeat Coronavirus, Mark Zuckerberg Says

Facebook co-founder and CEO Mark Zuckerberg believes that the company could play a significant role in the fight against the novel coronavirus. He said governments and organizations could utilize data from the social media giant to monitor local outbreaks and address the shortage of protective equipment for frontliners.

Facebook mainly aims to help provide a clear understanding of how COVID-19 spreads across communities around the world. The company wants to use information from billions of users to guide response to the pandemic and plans for recovery, Zuckerberg said in an article posted Monday on Washington Post.

One of the ongoing efforts of Facebook is the “Data for Good” program. It provides disease-prevention maps showing areas where people have been traveling and interacting amid the coronavirus pandemic.

Zuckerberg said the program has been helping researchers in Asia, Europe and North America in the decision making process to address local outbreaks in the past months. In Taiwan, a research team used the maps to determine cities with the highest risk of infections, while in Italy the program helps guide lockdown measures based on income inequality.

Another campaign by Facebook is a large symptom survey in the U.S. with researchers at Carnegie Mellon University. The effort asks people about their symptoms associated with COVID-19 and provides the data to warn hospitals about a possible increase or decrease in infections in the coming days. 

“They’re getting approximately one million responses a week in the United States, and the results are promising,” Zuckerberg said. “They correlate with publicly available data on confirmed cases, which suggests this data can help predict where the disease will spread. They can also be used to build detailed county-by-county insights.” 

Artificial intelligence has also been supporting the social media company in its efforts to fight the coronavirus. Facebook has partnered with teams from New York University and the Mila research institute in Montreal to use AI tools that inform health systems about potential shortage of equipment, like ventilators, for patients with COVID-19.

“Better data can help governments determine where to send resources such as ventilators and personal protective equipment — and eventually which areas are safe to start opening up again,” Zuckerberg said in the article. 

Aside from guiding health authorities and researchers, the company also helps promote social distancing and limit the presence of people outdoors. Facebook recently blocked events that called on people to join protests in Nebraska, California and New Jersey against the government’s stay-at-home measures.

“The world has faced pandemics before, but this time we have a new superpower: the ability to gather and share data for good,” Zuckerberg said. “If we use it responsibly, I’m optimistic that data can help the world respond to this health crisis and get us started on the road to recovery.”

Mark Zuckerberg Mark Zuckerberg F8 2018 keynote. Anthony Quintano/Wikimedia Commons

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