The global outspread of COVID-19 also brought along with itself the raging virus of digital misinformation which despite the best efforts of the social media behemoth Facebook seemed to have sneaked passed their radar and reached billions of people.
According to a report released by Avaaz, a global human rights group, topics such as vaccines and other health topics got viewed a whopping 3.8 billion times on the social media platform which is 4 times more than the authoritative content published by World Health Organization (WHO) and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).
The report highlights that 84% of the posts which contained misinformation did not include a warning label. The group found huge inconsistencies in the labelling of content pieces that had been identified as misleading by Facebook’s own network of independent third-party fact-checkers.
Avaaz, in order to conduct its study, first identified a sample set of 82 websites which were identified by the independent fact-checkers as sources of misinformation, both in terms of coronavirus and other topics. The group then proceeded to track how the misguiding articles from those sites were shared across Facebook.
After concluding their research, they arrived at the undeniable fact – certain Facebook pages tend to act as ‘super spreaders’ when it comes to viral misinformation. The 42 pages that Avaaz identified and tagged as super spreaders collectively have 28 million followers and their content easily generated close to 800 million views.
Despite Facebook implementing stricter policies many pages which were indulged in spreading misleading health information got even more traffic during the pandemic than at other times – reaching a one-year peak in the month of April.
Curbing COVID-19 Misinformation: A Test That Facebook Failed?
The COVID-19 crisis has definitely been a test of Facebook’s promises, capabilities, efforts to prevent harm on its platform. In March, CEO Mark Zuckerberg announced that he will be collaborating with WHO to provide better health information to Facebook’s 2.6 billion monthly active users worldwide.
Soon after that, a consistent banner was observed on top of the Facebook app that would direct users to content from authoritative sources along with the platform announcing it will tag and limit the spread of false and misguiding content. However, yet throughout the pandemic, the systems and processes put in place by Zuckerberg seem to have failed measurably.
For instance, a documentary called “Plandemic” which claimed that wearing masks doesn’t help people stay safe but develop COVID-19 instead was shared millions of times before it was actually identified as harmful and removed.
Facebook, in response to this report by Avaaz, has said that the group failed to reflect the steps taken by the social media behemoth to limit misinformation from spreading on their family of apps. The company also revealed few figures to prove that it has largely been successful in their undertaking of curbing pandemic related fake news.
According to Facebook, 98 million pieces of COVID-19 misinformation was successfully tagged with warning labels by their global network of fact-checkers from April to June.
Facebook also claimed to have removed 7 million pieces of content that could have lead to imminent harm and directed over 2 billion people to resources published by health authorities.
All said and done, no matter which side of the story one chooses to lean towards, this report gives a very important reminder – At the end of the day, it is the users who must fact check every piece of information they decide to consume because no moderation system is completely foolproof.
Let us know your take on Facebook’s justification and efforts to fight with misinformation that is flooding the platform in the comment section below.