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Facebook accidentally blocks genuine COVID-19 news – Naked Security


Fake news, bogus miracle cures: Facebook has been dealing with a lot, and COVID-19 isn’t making it any easier.

Like many other companies, Facebook is trying to keep its employees safe by allowing them to opt for working remotely, so as to avoid infection.

But when humans are taken out of the content moderation loop, it might suggest that automated systems are running the show. Facebook is denying that a recent content moderation glitch has anything to do with workforce issues, but it’s also saying that automated systems are to blame for being overzealous in stamping out misinformation.

On Tuesday, Guy Rosen, Facebook’s VP of Integrity, confirmed user complaints about valid posts about the pandemic (among other things) having been blocked by mistake by automated systems:

On Wednesday, a Facebook spokesperson confirmed that all affected posts have now been restored. While users may still see notifications about content having been removed when they log in, they should also see that posts that adhere to community standards are back on the platform, the spokesperson said.

Facebook says it routinely uses automated systems to help enforce its policies against spam. The spokesperson didn’t say what, exactly, caused the automated systems to go haywire, nor how Facebook fixed the problem.

They did deny that the issue was related to any changes in Facebook’s content moderator workforce, however.

Regardless of whether the blame should lie with humans or scripts, The Register reports that it took just one day for COVID-19 content moderation to flub it. On Monday, Facebook had put out an industry statement saying that it was joining Google, LinkedIn, Microsoft, Reddit, Twitter, and YouTube to scrub misinformation contained in posts about COVID-19. (Speaking of which, just for the record, health authorities say that neither drinking bleach nor gargling with salt water will cure COVID-19).

We are working closely together on COVID-19 response efforts. We’re helping millions of people stay connected while also jointly combating fraud and misinformation about the virus, elevating authoritative content on our platforms, and sharing critical updates in coordination with government healthcare agencies around the world. We invite other companies to join us as we work to keep our communities healthy and safe.

Within one day, its automated systems were, in fact, squashing authoritative updates. From what the Register can discern, the systems-run-amok situation was first spotted by Mike Godwin, a US-based lawyer and activist who coined Godwin’s Law: “As an online discussion grows longer, the probability of a comparison involving Nazis or Hitler approaches.”

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