When A Bug Caused Uproar Against Facebook Flagging News As Spam!

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With the widespread of Coronavirus, there is a lot of misleading information available on the internet. The world is already in a state of mass panic and false information only worsens the situation. In such a scenario, finding and communicating the right information through the internet is extremely necessary. The internet giants like Facebook and Google, which are the primary source of such information for billions of internet users, are leaving no stone unturned to filter legitimate information. But what if the filtration system starts marking even the legitimate articles as spam?

Facebook, one of the largest social media platforms, widely used to communicate information. started flagging legitimate articles on the Coronavirus, albeit unintentionally. On Tuesday, many users reported about this mishap on Twitter by tagging Facebook. The issue was due to a bug in their anti-spam system.

Facebook quickly acknowledged the issue to avoid making users a big fuss of it. Guy Rosen, Vice President of Integrity – Facebook, responded to the tweets informing that the company has already identified the bug. He also assured everyone that they are trying to fix the bug as soon as possible.

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The incident started on March 17 evening. Users started noticing that their posts regarding any information on COVID-19 or the Coronavirus were marked as spam, and wasn’t available for public view. This was happening even to posts that featured articles from respectable sources such as The Atlantic, The Verge, BuzzfeedNews, etc.

Impact of the Incident:

Various users reported that they were unable to share medical information related to the coronavirus. They received a message saying that their posts violated the community standards on spam.

Articles from sites such as The Atlantic, Buzzfeed News, and Politico were all marked as spam. Users informed that the reach of their posts was limited and no one else could see them.

Lana Rushing, a Facebook member informed MarketWatch that she received a warning after she posted articles related to the pandemic Coronavirus from USA Today and NBC’s Today. She received messages from Facebook regarding her other posts as well informing her that they were marked as spam.

With nearly 2.5 billion monthly active users, Facebook is one among the top sources internet users consume news from. The bug caused a huge block in the flow of information about the virus.

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Alex Stamos, the former security chief of Facebook, blamed the company’s policies and less human oversight of the anti-spam algorithm for the mishap. Guy Rosen, however, soon dismissed the claim by informing that the bug had no relation with changes in their moderator workforce.

Need To Revisit The Process

Only after tweets started flooding Facebook’s Twitter wall, Guy Rosen addressed the issues. Realising the seriousness and the urgency of the issue during the time of Coronavirus outbreak worldwide he informed the tweeps that the team is already deployed for the issue to fix it as soon as possible.

One and a half-hour later, he tweeted once again to inform everyone that the issue was taken care of. He also informed that all the incorrectly deleted posts were restored including the ones that were not about the coronavirus. The issue was with an automated system suppose to remove abusive websites.

Facebook with other companies such as Google, Mircosoft, LinkedIn, Reddit, Twitter, and Youtube issued a joint statement related to fighting coronavirus related misinformation. All the tech giants invited other companies to come together to fight against any misinformation to keep the community safe and healthy.

However, the incident triggered a debate on the processes employed by tech companies, especially Facebook, to filter misleading and incorrect information. In fact, a recent report by Rank Digital Rights, questioned Facebook’s current approach to moderation and claimed that it may not be able to fight the issue of misinformation related to coronavirus on its platform.

Facebook has left no stone unturned to keep the scary effect of Coronavirus on its staff and SMBs minimal. The social media giant is trying to tackle the wide outbreak of the coronavirus by giving away $1000 to all 45,000 full-time employees. To help small businesses, they have donated $100 million as well. Besides, the also cancelled its flagship event F8 conference that was scheduled for this month.

Facebook was indeed quick enough to fix the issue related to its moderation system that was wrongly marking articles related to Coronavirus. But the incident has exposed a need to revisit its moderation process to avoid any similar incident in future.

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