Coronavirus symptom map: Mark Zuckerberg says Facebook users can help researchers forecast COVID-19 activity

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Monday, April 20, 2020
Facebook unveils COVID-19 symptom map
Mark Zuckerberg is inviting users to answer survey on Facebook about COVID-19 symptoms, saying it could help researchers track hot spots, forecast activity amid the pandemic.

MENLO PARK, Calif. -- In a world where we stand 6 feet apart to be safe -- how can we track the novel coronavirus and better protect ourselves? Facebook has come up with one answer and wants you to help.

Facebook CEO, Mark Zuckerberg has announced the results of a new initiative in the battle against COVID-19. The unprecedented partnership is designed to use the power of social media and Facebook's billions of monthly uses to track the pandemic.

Zuckerberg spoke with ABC News' chief anchor George Stephanopoulos in an exclusive interview on "Good Morning America" on Monday to explain how his Menlo Parked based company plans to track COVID-19 information and protect people around the world.

Zuckerberg: "We're partnering with researchers at Carnegie Mellon University to run a widespread survey across Facebook, asking people what kind of symptoms they're feeling."

Stephanopoulos: "Can you explain to everyone how it works and just what you hope to achieve?"

Zuckerberg: "We're able to work with the researchers to produce an interactive map based on the aggregate data that provides a daily updated, county by county map, of the symptoms that people are experiencing, across the country."

The new maps help officials identify situations where more supplies are needed. They also help to predict possible resurgence based on self-reporting of symptoms, according to Zuckerberg.

If everything is based on self reporting, how can you increase the chances that it will be accurate, questioned Stephanopoulos.

Zuckerberg: "That's a lot of the work that the health researchers at Carnegie Mellon have been doing to make sure the data that's coming from the survey is high quality and that it correlates with what hospitals are seeing on the ground".

In the 10 days since the survey launched, the data has shown possible hot spots where officials can work to target their response.

Stephanopoulos: "Are you seeing anything surprising, so far?"

Zuckerberg: "If you look at the maps, there are some things that I think would jump out to you. Some journalists have reported, for example, that ski resorts might have been playing an early role in the spread of COVID. We do see in the maps that some of the counties around where there are prominent ski resorts have a lifted level of people experiencing symptoms, so there are things like that you can see."

Zuckerberg addressed the potential privacy concerns that individuals might have in submitting answers on the social media platform about their personal health.

Stephanopoulos: "How can you guarantee that's going to be protected?"

Zuckerberg: "The individual data and responses actually don't go to Facebook at all. Carnegie Mellon produces an aggregate report that doesn't include anyone's individual response. It's a really important part of this program that Facebook is helping to distribute the survey, but it's Carnegie Mellon's survey."

Facebook and Carnegie Mellon are now expanding this survey on a global scale, working to provide the data to governments and public health officials worldwide.

Stephanopoulos: "I can also imagine a lot of leaders in a lot of countries are not going to be happy with that level of transparency."

Zuckerberg: "We're certainly seeing there are some governments that I think might be trying to suppress how bad the disease is in their countries. But I do think it can also help, keep them accountable and honest about what the symptoms are."

Facebook also holds its users accountable by continuing to monitor and flag posts for harmful misinformation about the disease.

Stephanopoulos: "How do you deal with the fact that Facebook is now being used to organize a lot of these protests that defy social distancing. Does somebody trying to organize something like that, does that qualify as harmful information?"

Zuckerberg: "We do classify that as harmful misinformation and we take that down, at the same time, it's important that people can debate policies, so there's a line on this. But, you know, more than normal political discourse, I think a lot of the stuff that people are saying that is false around a health emergency, like this, can be classified as harmful misinformation."

Stephanopoulos: "How about your personal life? What does this mean for you? How has this changed your day, your routines?"

Zuckerberg: "I'm working from home, which, you know, it's initially quite challenging to manage as the kids are home from school. On the one hand, it's great to see them throughout the day. On the other hand, sometimes I do an interview, like the one that we're doing now, and I try to prevent them from running in, although the audience might like it. Look, I think this is a challenge that everyone is adapting to."

Facebook is making the aggregated survey information from its users available.

"The survey results, combined with data from additional sources, provide real-time indications of COVID-19 activity not previously available from any other source," Carnegie Mellon University announced in a statement.