On Thursday, Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg interviewed Dr. Anthony Fauci, the country’s leading infectious disease expert, about the ongoing coronavirus pandemic.
“I would like to make a plea to the young individuals who are watching—adolescents, teenagers, people in their twenties and thirties, who we have mentioned and pointed out are so less likely to not get a serious consequence of infection—to please understand that you play a major role in ultimately containing this infection by not being careless and listening to the recommendations of physical separation,” Fauci said in the interview, which was live-streamed on Zuckerberg’s Facebook page. “Please. Because you are an important part of this whole process.”
The 38-minute conversation, which drew 1.1 million views and more than 31,000 shares, was a significant move by Facebook, which has struggled to contain the spread of misinformation about the coronavirus outbreak on its platform. At the same time, Facebook has promoted reliable information from public health authorities such as the World Health Organization and the Center for Disease Control, which houses Fauci’s National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases.
While Fauci has been a consistent presence—and voice of both reason and reliable information—at President Donald Trump’s press conferences in recent days, he was noticeably absent in that forum today, which led to “Where’s Dr. Fauci” trending on Twitter.
Facebook, which has 2.5 billion monthly active users around the world and 247 million in the United States and Canada, per Sprout Social, is currently rolling out a coronavirus resource page, the Coronavirus Information Center, to appear atop users’ news feeds. The company has also committed to match $20 million in donations towards relief efforts and has set aside millions for a new grant program for journalistic fact-checking efforts related to the pandemic.
But the company, which also owns Instagram and WhatsApp, is constantly under fire for missteps. Yesterday, Facebook blamed a “bug” for the removal of coronavirus-related news items from legitimate outlets, such as The Forward, a prominent Jewish-American news organization. Facebook has also tried to eliminate ads and marketplace listings from those trying to profiteer off the outbreak—though items like medical masks are still finding their way on.
In the wide-ranging interview with Fauci, Zuckerberg only mentioned Facebook at the end, to tell users about the company’s coronavirus resources. The two touched a series of different topics including the timeline of the pandemic, the government’s ongoing response efforts, testing efforts, therapeutics and vaccines, and whether hot weather could curb the virus’ effects (Answer: most viruses thrive in cold, dry environments and struggle in wet, humid climates; but we have no way of knowing this coronavirus will behave that way, Fauci said.)
The interview could be an optimal situation for both Facebook and the NIAID: Zuckerberg needs to prove he can purify the information ecosystem he built in a time of global crisis. And Fauci needs to reach a mass audience—and young people in particular—if he wants to stymie the onslaught of the coronavirus on U.S. soil.
Both need to act quickly.