Face­book fail­ure on false claims risks pub­lic health, says re­port

The Daily Telegraph - Business - - Technology Intelligen­ce - By Han­nah Boland

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.”

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