Google Giving $3M in Grants to Fight COVID-19 Vaccine Misinformation

In another effort to shore up its ability to surface true and factual information, Google is looking to fund fact-checking groups working to correct falsehoods around the new coronavirus vaccine.

Offering $3 million total in grants through its ongoing Google News Initiative, which over the last year has also given money to fund various newsroom diversity projects and fact-checking nonprofits, Google is looking specifically for fact-checking efforts on the new vaccine for COVID-19 with its new “open fund.”

“The uncertainty and developing nature of the coronavirus pandemic continues to generate related misinformation,” said Alexios Mantzarlis, Google’s news and information credibility lead. “The global rollout of COVID-19 vaccines is exacerbating the problem of misinformation about immunization.” He noted that at least 10,000 fact checks have been created in an effort to combat misinformation going around worldwide.

“The fund is global and open to news organizations of every size which have a proven track record in fact-checking and debunking activities or partner with an organization with such recognition,” Mantzarlis added.

With the growing anti-vaccination movement in the U.S. and abroad in recent years, which has led to formerly eradicated illnesses, most notably the measles, to return as parents refuse to vaccinate their children over medically unfounded fears that such vaccines cause excessive harm, the COVID-19 vaccine has not been spared. 

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Health care workers and the elderly have only been receiving the vaccine for a few weeks, and already videos falsely claiming adverse side effects are circulating widely on social media. A single written post also circulated so widely that Reuters saw fit to factcheck its various falsehoods, including that the vaccine somehow alters a recipients DNA, which is untrue. Separately, strange searches for vaccine information on Google are on the rise, like whether the vaccine given to a pregnant woman will cause miscarriage, which it will not. Or whether it affects female fertility, which it does not. An entirely unfounded claim that former President Barack Obama urged Black people not to get the vaccine is also circulating widely, despite being false.

Even with continued efforts to point out such information as false when searched for online, Google said those seeking information and those who come across a fact-check “don’t overlap perfectly.” Given that difference, which seems to be wide considering the amount of misinformation online and the speed with which much of it proliferates, Google is seeking applications for the new grants from fact-checkers who have the service of “those who may be disproportionately affected by misinformation in mind.”

The company said it will find any such project up to $1 million and cover up to 80 percent of a total project’s costs.

“We will prioritize collaborative projects with an interdisciplinary team and clear ways to measure success,” Mantzarlis said. He said eligible projects will be those like a partnership between an “established” media organization, particularly those with “deep roots” in a given community, and a fact-checking project. Or something like a “collaborative platform” where journalists and doctors “jointly source misinformation and publish fact checks.”

A 14-person jury, made up almost entirely of experts not working for Google, will select the grantees.

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