Looking back a few months ago at the predictions of the biggest trends in User Experience Design for 2020, we can see one of them taking the stage due to the unprecedented times we live in.
“The State of UX in 2020” report by the UX Collective started by presenting “Designing for the post-truth era” as a movement to which more companies will adhere to, in the new decade, by focusing their efforts on designing for transparency and encouraging critical thinking from their users.
The dissemination of information online is not a structured process. Facts and mistruths are circulated online with equal vigor, with little to no consequences for the distributor of information. The online space is an undisputed leading source of news and it has a larger impact on shaping public opinion compared to traditional media.
As the premier digital-native generation, we have to take stock of how technology shapes our life, drives our decisions and influences our opinions. Our responsibility as UX designers is to aid truth validation and provision for the creation of ethical User Interface to provide users with fact-checking and reviewing features to go hand-in-hand with the viewing experience. In the previous year, we had already witnessed an increase in disclaimer messaging on Instagram and YouTube on certain content, where signs of tampering and half-truth were prominent.
The unexpected challenge of 2020
The spread of the novel coronavirus and the resulting SARS-CoV-2 (a.k.a. COVID-19) pandemic has provided a powerful test not only of social and governance systems but also of the big technology platforms as digital communication technologies play an increasingly prominent role in our life.
The spread of online misinformation has called for technological platforms like Amazon, Facebook, Google and Twitter to step up and keep things like dangerous health advice from spreading throughout the internet.
The tech platforms’ work to fight misinformation falls into three main categories:
- promoting good information
- demoting bad information
- keeping misinformation from appearing in the first place
Promoting good information
The method of highlighting the best information is widespread. A quick search for “coronavirus” on Google will result in the latest stories from trusted news sources, followed by links to the World Health Organization and the Center for Disease Control and Prevention. The interface is adapted to the topic — all with bright red badging and quick links in the side navigation panel for the main topics that concern the users.
As you can see in the image below, it provides quick links to the local health institutions in an effort of helping the population get the most relevant information adapted to the region they live in.
Google also updated its home page to deliver coronavirus-related information to the masses.
The tech giant’s search page now has a notice that reads: “DO THE FIVE. Help stop coronavirus.” The alert appears just below the search bar and “I’m Feeling Lucky” tab. If you click the new alert, you’ll see a summary of advice from the World Health Organization explaining how to slow the spread of the outbreak.
The move brings vital information in an easy to absorb format to millions of people at a time when the respiratory illness turned into a worldwide crisis.
We can see this approach integrated into other products owned by Google such as YouTube or Maps. As of March 19, YouTube has promised to promote verified, informative videos of coronavirus information on its homepage.
Another similar approach was taken by Facebook which decided to place a coronavirus information center on top of all users’ news feeds with articles from vetted sources. Facebook’s new coronavirus information center displays real-time updates from national health authorities and global organizations such as the World Health Organization.
On March 18, the messaging service launched the WhatsApp Coronavirus Information Hub, working with the WHO, UNICEF, and UNDP to keep its global users informed about the pandemic and, therefore, limit the spread of rumors.
Part of this initiative, WHO Health Alert, a chatbot that gives people access to accurate information about SARS-CoV-2 was created.
Demoting bad information
One common decision that has been made by Facebook, Instagram, Google, and Amazon is blocking ads that capitalize on the pandemic.
Google has instituted a temporary ban on all ads for medical masks and respirators and it has also disabled app searches for “coronavirus” on the Google Play Store.
Google is removing misleading information and fake reviews about healthcare locations from Google Maps, using a combination of automated and manual review systems.
YouTube decided, at the beginning of March, to shut down ads on videos about the coronavirus, in line with its advertising policy which sometimes demonetizes videos discussing “sensitive events” such as global health crises.
Keeping misinformation from appearing in the first place
Pinterest has employed the most hardline approach to coronavirus misinformation. Building on its policy on countering vaccine misinformation, searching for key coronavirus keywords does not result in a list of posts but it presents a message that redirects the user to one of the trusted websites such as CCD or WHO. The platform also advises users who are looking for medical advice to contact a healthcare provider.
Pinterest is using AI to fight SARS-CoV-2 misinformation by finding keywords associated with misinformation and blocking related pins. It also identifies images associated with medical misinformation.
Instagram is blocking and restricting coronavirus hashtags by re-routing users to public health organizations. A search for #coronavirus shows a pop-up redirecting users to the local institution for health websites.
While not all misinformation can be stopped, platforms are doing much more to stem the flow of bad information, ultimately contributing to a more informed and confident public. Now, more than ever, it is crucial that our designs support these initiatives.
As designers of the products of the future, we have a huge responsibility ahead of us: designing tools to filter out fake content, making users more aware of the treachery of deep fakes, and stopping the spread of misinformation. The first step in this direction is raising awareness inside our organizations, establishing principles around truth and reporting how our platforms might be misused by agents with hidden agendas.