Over 30 million people told Facebook if they had Covid or wore masks

Dr. Farzad Mostashari presenting on syndromic surveillance.

Farzad Mostashari

When Carnegie Mellon researchers had the idea to put together a survey asking the general public about their coronavirus symptoms, the scientists knew they needed to collect millions of data points to learn anything meaningful.

So they asked Facebook, which has a public team that specializes in using analytics for humanitarian causes called “Data for Good,” for its help. 

The survey, which went live to Facebook’s billions of users about six months ago, has so far collected data from more than 30 million people around the world. The survey asks whether they tested positive for the virus, if they wear masks and practice socially distancing as well as if they’re currently experiencing symptoms. Respondents also share data about their demographics, like their age, as well as their mental health status and preexisting medical conditions.

More than 1.5 million people fill out

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Opinion | ‘But I Saw It on Facebook’: Hoaxes Are Making Doctors’ Jobs Harder

The news came from a colleague — not a doctor but someone who works in the emergency room and has seen firsthand the devastation caused by the pandemic. “There is a cure for Covid-19,” he said. “It must be true because a doctor friend shared a Facebook post about this cure.”

When confronted with the latest, credible scientific evidence — that there is no cure for Covid-19, that the disease has killed more than 180,000 Americans precisely because we have no effective way of averting death for the millions who are infected — he doubled down. “But I saw it on Facebook,” he said.

In the emergency room and in conversations with the American public through cable news interviews and Op-Eds like this one, we’ve both been working to dissect and debunk the many myths about this new virus, its potential treatments and the possibility of a vaccine. We read

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