Tech

Facebook to tell millions of users theyve seen fake news about COVID-19

Millions of Facebook users will soon be told if they saw online posts containing misinformation about the coronavirus pandemic after the social networking giant announced Thursday its latest plans to contain the spread of rumors, half-truths and lies connected to the public health crisis.

The move, which will start over the next three weeks, represents a major step by Facebook — an acknowledgment that its efforts to scrub the platform of falsehoods related to COVID-19 have not been sufficient to stop millions of people sharing, liking and engaging with misinformation.

“Through this crisis, one of my top priorities is making sure that you see accurate and authoritative information across all of our apps,” Mark Zuckerberg, the companys chief executive, wrote on his Facebook page.

The decision, in part, comes after the campaign group Avaaz discovered that over 40 percent of the coronavirus-related misinformation it found on Facebook — which had already been debunked by fact-checking organizations working with the tech giant — remained on the platform despite the company being told by these organizations that the social media posts were false.

In total, Avaaz said that these fake social media posts — everything from advice about bogus medical remedies for the virus to claims that minority groups were less susceptible to infection — had been shared, collectively, 1.7 million times on Facebook in six languages.

“We will need more transparency and better access to data for researchers to fully verify the scope and impact of false content” — Vêra Jourová, European Commission vice president

“Facebook, given its scale, is the epicenter for misinformation,” Fadi Quran, Avaazs campaign director, told POLITICO, adding the companys efforts to combat the problem had steadily improved since the social network announced it would do all it could to stop the spread of such life-threatening falsehoods.

Facebook said Thursday that its existing steps, including pinning government public health warnings to the top of peoples news feeds, had led to 350 million people worldwide clicking through to authoritative sources in search of accurate information.

“Facebook should be proud of this step,” added Quran in reference to the companys decision to retroactively notify people they had seen misinformation. “But the step doesnt reflect the full gamut of what we would like to see them do.”

As part of its latest push to quell the spread of COVID-19 misinformation, Facebook will show people who engaged with false content, which has now been deleted, messages that debunk those claims based on fact-checking efforts by the World Health Organization. That includes claims that 5G mobile networks can spread the disease and rumors that hot climates can render people immune — posts that have since been removed.

The United Nations agency has become a political target after Donald Trump announced the United States was cutting its funding from the WHO.

Facebook would not give a figure on the number of its users who would see the notifications. But as the company said it had removed hundreds of thousands of posts containing misinformation — and because the number of its global users now tops more than 2.2 billion people — its likely that millions of users will be told they have engaged with some form of COVID-19 misinformation.

Despite this latest step, the company will not run similar labels next to more politically-motivated content, promoted by global leaders such as Trump and Jair Bolsonaro, Brazils president, stating that certain medical treatments like hydroxychloroquine may aid recovery from COVID-19. There is no clear evidence that is the case.

So far, Facebook said that, based on the work of independent fact-checking organizations, it had labeled 40 million Facebook posts with warnings that the content may be false.

“We will need more transparency and better access to data for researchers to fully verify the scope and impact of false content,” Vêra Jourová, the European Commission vice president, told POLITICO in a written statement. She welcomed Facebooks latest announcement, but added: “Im worried to see such high volumes of harmful content and misinformation spread in times of pandemic.”

Fake content not removed

Since the global crisis began in late December, coronavirus misinformation remains widespread on Facebook and its other digital services, Instagram and WhatsApp, often fueled by peoples desperate efforts to protect themselves from a global pandemic that, so far, has left almost 140,000 dead.

To check how the social network was handling the flood of false posts, Avaaz tracked 104 claims debunked by fact-checkers to see how quickly they were removed from the platform. Along with its use of artificial intelligence to clamp down on misinformation, Facebook has promoted its work with these independent organizations as a cornerstone of its response to the global pandemic. It is now working with 60 organizatRead More – Source