Facebook failure on false claims risks public health, says report
FACEBOOK’s failure to stop the spread of medical misinformation poses a major danger to public health, according to a damning new report.
In the past year, false claims over vaccines and other health topics garnered 3.8 billion views on Facebook. However, less than a fifth of health misinformation on Facebook was marked with a warning label, said Avaaz, a nonprofit activism group.
The researchers found that false health claims on the social media site peaked in April, when many countries were being forced into lockdowns to curb the spread of Covid-19.
They estimated that health misinfor- mation received around 460 million views on Facebook during that month, even as the company’s chiefs spoke about efforts to thwart fake news.
The researchers warned that false claims circulating on Facebook could encourage people to stop taking recognised medical treatments, prompt discrimination against certain groups, or lead to fear and panic.
In April, Facebook boss Mark Zuckerberg said one of its most important functions at that time was to “help connect people with authoritative health information and experts, and to limit the spread of misinformation”. Avaaz found websites known to spread false health claims received four times as many views on their content by Facebook users as information from health institutions such as the WHO.
Campaign director Fadi Quran said: “Facebook’s algorithm is a major threat to public health. Mark Zuckerberg promised to provide reliable information during the pandemic. But his algorithm is sabotaging those efforts by driving many of Facebook’s 2.7 billion users to health-misinformation spreading networks.
“This infodemic will make the pandemic worse unless Facebook detoxifies its algorithm and provides corrections to everyone exposed to these viral lies.”
A spokesman for Facebook said: “We share Avaaz’s goal of limiting misinformation, but their findings don’t reflect the steps we’ve taken to keep it from spreading on our services.
“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 7 million pieces of content that could lead to imminent harm.
“We’ve directed over 2 billion people to resources from health authorities and when someone tries to share a link about Covid-19, we show them a pop-up to connect them with credible health information.”