The Grapevine

Facebook Blocked Legitimate News Articles About COVID-19

Amid the rapidly growing cases of COVID-19 around the world, health authorities in many countries are also battling another problem that spreads even faster than the virus: Fake news about the pandemic that has been circulating around social media, which affects how people look at the situation. 

To the World Health Organization (WHO) and government officials, misinformation increases the risk of contracting the novel coronavirus and prompts panic. Health experts also warned that false treatments posted online could make people more likely to suffer from health problems or complications related to COVID-19.

To help address the issue, Facebook has launched an automated moderation tool designed to filter articles that provide wrong information on COVID-19 pandemic. However, netizens slammed the social media giant early this week after the tool also removed posts containing legitimate news articles. 

"It looks like an anti-spam rule at FB is going haywire," Alex Stamos, a former Facebook security executive, wrote on Twitter. "Facebook sent home content moderators yesterday, who generally can't WFH due to privacy commitments the company has made. We might be seeing the start of the ML [machine learning] going nuts with less human oversight."

Guy Rosen, Facebook’s vice president of integrity, explained that both fake and credible stories were removed because of a “bug in an anti-spam system.” The company quickly resolved the issue and restored affected posts, the Verge reported

“We’ve restored all the posts that were incorrectly removed, which included posts on all topics — not just those related to COVID-19,” Rosen said. 

The automated moderation tool is part of Facebook’s efforts to remove false claims and conspiracy theories about the novel coronavirus. The company, along with Google, LinkedIn, Microsoft, Reddit, Twitter and YouTube, announced on Monday that they will continue to fight coronavirus-related misinformation.

The WHO has also been increasing efforts to prevent the spread of fake news as it tries to help countries contain COVID-19. 

“We’re concerned about the levels of rumours and misinformation that are hampering the response,” Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, director general of WHO, said at a previous conference. “But we’re not just fighting an epidemic; we’re fighting an infodemic. Fake news spreads faster and more easily than this virus, and is just as dangerous.”

Facebook Facebook has joined Google, LinkedIn, Microsoft, Reddit, Twitter and YouTube in efforts to fight coronavirus-related misinformation. Pixabay

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