HomeWhen Facebook Is More Trustworthy Than the PresidentBusinessWhen Facebook Is More Trustworthy Than the President

When Facebook Is More Trustworthy Than the President

Dr. Mike, whose real name is Mikhail Varshavski, is a family practitioner in New Jersey who became popular five years ago as a hot Instagram doctor with a cute dog. Then, he was 25 and living with his father on Staten Island. Now, he inhabits a $9,000-a-month penthouse on Manhattan’s Far West Side.

“Pandemic does not mean panic-demic,” he said Friday afternoon. He was seated cross-legged on a black leather sofa., trying out lines. “Do you like that? Or is that corny?” He decided it was good and corny.

Dr. Varshavski delivers solid health information to young people, much of it through videos of him reacting to memes and TV shows. When the coronavirus crisis began, he responded. And because YouTube’s system now favors authoritative voices, videos like his “The Truth About the Coronavirus” rank high in recommendations. It has drawn more than five million views.

Mr. Varshavski also debunks misinformation from many directions. One of his targets Friday was an influencer who talks to deer. Another is the TV star Dr. Mehmet Oz, who has been recommending zinc tablets and elderberry syrup. (A spokesman for Dr. Oz said the products have been shown to be helpful with the common cold.) Then, of course, there’s President Trump.

Responsible voices like Dr. Varshavski’s and a whole generation of researchers, reporters, and even tech company employees seem, at least right now, to be breaking through. Mr. Zuckerberg, the industry’s most committed optimist, says the power of social media will be viewed “as a bigger part of the story if we do our job well over the coming weeks.”

When I talked to Mr. Zuckerberg and other social media executives last week, I kept returning to the same point: Will the flow of responsible information last beyond this crisis? Could it extend into our upcoming presidential campaign?

“I hope so,’’ Twitter’s Mr. Dorsey wrote. “Up to all of us.”

Mr. Zuckerberg was less sanguine. Right now, Facebook is tackling “misinformation that has imminent risk of danger, telling people if they have certain symptoms, don’t bother going getting treated …. things like ‘you can cure this by drinking bleach.’ I mean, that’s just in a different class.”

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