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Facebook’s Algorithm is Fuelling an ‘Infodemic’ of Health Misinformation

Ross Kelly

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Facebook health misinformation

Avaaz identified 42 Facebook pages as ‘key drivers’ for global health misinformation websites.

Misinformation circulated on Facebook poses a “major threat” to public health, according to a new report.

Published by activist group, Avaaz, the report revealed that health-related misinformation was viewed more than 3.8 billion on the social media site over the past 12-months.

Websites spreading health misinformation through Facebook peaked at an estimated 460 million views in April.

The report highlighted a lack of moderation by Facebook. Only 16% of all health information analysed as part of the study had a warning label from the social media firm.

“Despite their content being fact-checked, the other 84% of articles and posts sampled in this report remain online without warnings,” the report said.

Misinformation ‘Superspreaders’

The report revealed the impact of so-called misinformation ‘superspreaders’ on social media users.

Content from the top-10 websites spreading health misinformation accrued almost four times as many estimated views on Facebook compared to equivalent content from organisations such as the World Health Organisation (WHO) and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).

Some of the websites identified as ‘superspreaders’ include RealFarmacy and GreenMedInfo.

On Facebook, Avaaz identified 42 pages as ‘key drivers’ for health misinformation websites.

In total, these are followed by more than 28 million people and have generated at least 800 million views.

Avaaz outlined a two-step solution to tackle what it described as an ‘infodemic’. According to the activist group, its advice could significantly cut the reach of misinformation content.

“Correct the record, by providing all users who have seen misinformation with independently fact-checked corrections. This could decrease belief in misinformation by an average of almost 50%,” Avaaz asserted.

Avaaz also called for Facebook to ‘detox the algorithm’ by downgrading misinformation posts and repeated misinformation actors in users’ news feeds. By doing this, the group said Facebook could decrease the reach of such content by 80%.

Despite repeated calls from health professionals to tackle the issue of misinformation, Avaaz said the social media giant “has yet to effectively apply these solutions at the scale and sophistication needed to defeat this infodemic”.

In a statement, Facebook said: “We share Avaaz’s goal of limiting misinformation. Thanks to our global network of fact-checkers, from April to June, we applied warning labels to 98 million pieces of Covid-19 misinformation and removed seven million pieces of content that could lead to imminent harm.”

Facebook added that it has directed more than two billion people to resources from legitimate health sources.

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Mark Zuckerberg has spoken out previously on the issue of misinformation. Speaking to the New York Times in March, Zuckerberg insisted the firm would take a ‘stronger stance’ on the issue of health-related misinformation.

“When you’re dealing with a pandemic, a lot of stuff we’re seeing just crossed the threshold,” he told the publication, adding: “it’s easier to set policies that are a little more black and white and take a much harder line.”

Ross Kelly

Staff Writer

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