“Unchecked Algorithms” Spreading Anti-Vaxx Misinformation On Facebook: Report

APRIL 8, 2018: Phone sitting on laptop with Facebook desktop site reflecting on screen. The social media giant's stock has dipped sharply since the Cambridge Analytica scandal.
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Facebook’s algorithm has been called into question, with a new report suggesting the platform is sharing anti-vax and other conspiracy groups to certain users.

The report, which has been compiled by NewsGuard, found that when users ‘like’ and anti-vaccine page on Facebook, they are recommended with similar pages through the ‘Recommended Pages’ tool, which publish information about COVID-19, masks, 5G, and other health topics.

While Facebook has built algorithms that are designed to help users access groups and content related to their interests, this report suggests these same algorithms could be contributing to the spread of misinformation.

The report has drawn criticism this morning from Australian advocacy group Reset Australia.

“Social media’s unchecked algorithms are supercharging conspiracy theories and misinformation, pushing some people into echo chambers where false information is all they see,” said Reset Australia executive director Chris Cooper.

“Rampant misinformation on social media is compounding challenges in Australia’s COVID-19 vaccine rollout. Genuine health concerns are being hi-jacked by anti-vaxx groups to stoke vaccine hesitancy and resistance.”

Reset Australia has also found through its own research that Australian engagement with anti-vaxx groups on Facebook has surged by 280 per cent during the pandemic.

Despite these findings, Facebook has made a concerted effort to stop the flow of misinformation on the platform during the pandemic.

Facebook’s VP Integrity Guy Rosen recently revealed the tech giant had removed 18 million pieces of content from Facebook and Instagram globally for violating policies on COVID-19-related misinformation and harm since the beginning of the pandemic last year.

Facebook is also reducing the distribution of content that does not violate guidelines but might discourage someone from getting vaccinated.

“We are reviewing the report and will take action against Pages or Groups that violate our policies. Since the beginning of the pandemic, we have removed 18 million pieces of COVID misinformation, labelled over 167 million pieces of false content, and connected over 2 billion people with authoritative information through tools like our COVID Information Centre,” Facebook told B&T.

A company spokesperson also pointed out that 6.2million Australians have now visited authoritative information through Facebook’s COVID-19 Information Centre.

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