The WHO has launched a tool to analyze public conversations about the coronavirus that take place on social media, as well as comments on blogs and news articles. Supported by Artificial Intelligence algorithms, it is capable of studying opinions in French, English, Spanish and Portuguese. Its goal is “to help health authorities stay on top of the online conversations that are happening in real time, so they can see what topics are trending, what is increasing, and where there is a credible information gap that needs to be filled.” , has detailed the WHO.
WHO and international experts propose “flattening the curve” of hoaxes with “infodemiologists”
The system is called EARS (ears, in English, acronym for Early Response Tool with Social Listening). “EARS crawls the Internet,” the organization explains, “and then looks at what people are discussing.” The new tool is able to interpret the context of the comments, if people ask questions, if they complain or when there are differences based on their gender.
The listening systems of social networks are widely used by private companies to analyze the public opinions of users regarding their products and services, or those of their competition. They are also used by governments and public institutions. “When health authorities understand what issues are capturing people’s attention and where there are information gaps, they can respond in real time with high-quality evidence-based information and intervention recommendations for health systems administrators,” he says. The OMS
In the case of EARS, the system is open and can be consulted by anyone in real time to analyze what is being spoken in each language in reference to the coronavirus. It includes up to 39 possible categories to frame a certain conversation or comment. In Spain, for example, it can be seen that the most discussed topic is “transmission scenarios”, with 12%. The least, the details regarding the “presymptomatic contagion.”
At the moment, EARS is in the pilot phase. It has already analyzed some 9.5 million comments issued from 20 different countries, but “it can be scaled to study any local context, language or future threat to health.” The WHO anticipates that the platform “can also easily incorporate other data sets” and the resulting data and metrics are available both on the website and through an API so that researchers can analyze and cross them with their own methods.
An infodemic parallel to the pandemic
The development of EARS is part of a line of research that the WHO launched in early summer 2020, after verifying that hoaxes, conspiracy theories and false information about alleged cures and natural remedies for the coronavirus were affecting the population. health of the population in parallel with the pandemic itself.
The organization called these avalanches of misinformation “infodemics” and summoned international experts from 14 different fields to study them. Various working groups with technologists, journalists, psychologists, political scientists, web designers, mathematicians, and data scientists were formed to study the problem. The slogan of the WHO was that infodemics “cannot be eradicated, they can be managed.”
One of the first decisions of the organization and the summoned specialists was to “actively listen to social networks” and “intervene” when hoaxes that could affect the population are detected. EARS is the first technical tool released to achieve that purpose.