How has Facebook handled the influx of fake news about Covid-19? The Wall Street Journal investigated the practices of the social network, which has multiplied the initiatives. But they were not enough.
As we have known for a few years, Facebook is one of the social networks where “fake news” is exchanged the most. And, since the start of 2020 and the Covid-19 pandemic, false information about the coronavirus and vaccines has invaded the platform. From the start of the epidemic, Facebook teams tried to limit the spread of fake news. Mark Zuckerberg even posted a message on his personal Facebook account, explaining that the platform is committed to helping its users access reliable information on Covid-19 and vaccines. ” We have already enabled 2 billion people to have access to quality information on Covid-19 He wrote in March.
But Facebook’s efforts to curb fake news haven’t been enough, as the Wall Street Journal shows. The American newspaper was able to access a large number of internal documents and memos, and drew a series of investigations, the Facebook Files.
The Wall Street Journal thus revealed that the platform’s celebrities were not subject to the same moderation rules, that Instagram knew that its users were suffering because of their platform, or that Facebook had favored violent content in order to generate of engagement. In a new investigation, dedicated to the impressive number of fake news on the Covid that have circulated on Facebook since the start of the pandemic, the newspaper shows that the creation of Mark Zuckerberg has escaped it.
A real desire for moderation
It would be wrong to say that nothing has been done to fight fake news about Covid-19. The Wall Street Journal points out that Mark Zuckerberg is personally involved in access to vaccines and health care. And, if the CEO has sometimes hesitated for a long time to ban certain types of content on his platform – such as the QAnons groups, which were not deleted until October 2020 – he showed his support for vaccines from the start. Protecting immunization campaigns has even been described as one of the ” top priorities From Facebook, explains the Wall Street Journal.
The first measures taken by the social network were therefore to immediately remove the publications promoting false information on the Covid, and on vaccines. Steps were also taken to limit the virality of the most dangerous publications, but to little effect: the conspiratorial film Plandemic (the American equivalent of the film Hold Up) was widely shared on the social network, and an August 2020 report indicated that fake news on Covid-19 was seen by 4 times more people than verified information.
Mark Zuckerberg was initially reluctant to make further decisions. But with the start of vaccination campaigns and the explosion of fake news about vaccines, the choice was ultimately to strengthen moderation. ” Facebook removed or reduced visibility of over 185 million covid posts Says the Wall Street Journal. But that’s when the Facebook teams realized that the machine they had created was not necessarily controllable.
Teams overwhelmed by events
In addition to removing false publications and fake news, Facebook has also promoted the posts of certain NGOs providing quality information on vaccines. But the social network was very quickly confronted with a major problem, which it had not anticipated: even under the publications explaining the interest of vaccines, the anti-vaccine comments poured in. However, one of the scientists working for the social network realized at that time that Facebook’s ability to detect content in comments was ” poor in English, and non-existent in other languages “.
Facebook users saw posts about vaccines nearly 775 million times a day, says an internal Facebook memo the Wall Street Journal was able to view. And the platform’s researchers were concerned that a large proportion of the comments under those posts were negative. ” Comments ranged from people voicing opposition to vaccines to conspiracy theories », It is written. In all, another report estimates that 41% of comments under posts about vaccines might discourage people from getting inoculated.
” We created the machine, and we can no longer control it “
Unicef, whose publications have been highlighted by Facebook, was concerned about this trend with the teams of the social network, who just advised it to continue publishing. Unicef listened to their advice and persevered, with statistics showing that advertising campaigns still helped build confidence in vaccines. But at what cost ? ” No one can say how even more effective these campaigns could have been if they hadn’t been drowned out by anti-vaccine comments. », Explained an employee of Unicef during an interview with the Wall Street Journal.
But the fact that Facebook has not been able to control the flood of negative comments on publications wanting to inform about the effectiveness of vaccines is worrying, and above all very revealing. Facebook was unable to anticipate the reactions of its users, and let himself be overtaken by the events and the virality of his own site. The Wall Street Journal also recounts a meeting at Facebook headquarters, which allegedly took place in early September, in which several employees questioned whether Facebook had grown too big to be controllable. ” We created the machine, and we can no longer control it An employee reportedly said.