Facebook flags 50 million misleading COVID-19-related content in April

May 13, 2020 - 7:41 PM
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Facebook website
Log-in page of Facebook.com, the world's biggest social networking website. (Unsplash/Kon Karampelas)

Around 50 million pieces of COVID-19-related content were flagged by social network giant Facebook’s detection team last April as part of its efforts to detect misinformation during this pandemic. 

Facebook said it applied warning labels to these COVID-19-related content based on around 7,500 articles by its independent fact-checking partners last month.

Because of these warning labels, Facebook said its users tend to avoid such posts on the platform 95% of the time, thus limiting the spread of misinformation about the novel coronavirus 

Moreover, since March 1, the social networking site also removed over 2.5 million pieces of organic content about the sale of masks, hand sanitizers, surface disinfecting wipes, and COVID-19 test kits. 

“For this, we have started to rely on computer vision technology that we’ve used for years to find and remove firearm and drug sales,” it said.

To achieve this, Facebook partnered with over 60 fact-checking organizations around the world to review content written in over 50 languages.  

It also used a complex artificial intelligence system and a new tool called SimSearch.net to detect copies of the false content. 

In its report, Facebook described SimSearchNet as a “convolutional neural net-based model built specifically to detect near-exact duplicates.” 

“Once independent fact-checkers have determined that an image contains misleading or false claims about coronavirus, SimSearchNet, as part of our end-to-end image indexing and matching system, is able to recognize near-duplicate matches so we can apply warning labels,” it added.  

Since the start of the pandemic last January, Facebook said it has been directing people to more accurate and credible sources of information about the new virus which causes COVID-19.  

Facebook started to roll out notifications or alerts to its users who have engaged with false posts about COVID-19 last April.   

It also set up a COVID-19 Information Center where it managed to direct more than two billion people to credible resources such as the World Health Organization and other reputable health authorities.  

The social media giant also used pop-ups on Facebook and its photo-sharing app Instagram to connect over 350 million people to its COVID-19 information hub.  

How to fight false information

Legal and media experts teamed up during a recent virtual session on “Trusted Content, Fake News, and the Law in the time of COVID-19″ wherein they discussed the “pressing need for accurate information over fake news,” and still respecting the basic rights to free speech.  

Thomson Reuters Foundation CEO Antonio Zappulla;  Reuters Philippines Bureau Deputy Chief Karen Lema, and Former Dean of Ateneo School of Government Tony La Viña shared insights on how people can help prevent fight fake and misleading information about the health crisis on social media.  

Determine the source of information. 

Before clicking share, retweet or forward, they advised that people should ask the following questions first: “Who is quoted in the piece of information you are sharing? Is the person an expert in the field or in a position of authority?” 

For user-generated content, Lema advised to trace the owner and ask permission before using it. 

Make sure the news source upholds journalistic standards.  

La Viña noted that news organizations and journalists abide by a code of ethics and standards and have gained the public’s trust over time, therefore, ensuring public credibility and accuracy with their reports. 

Understand the situation is evolving. Verify information through multiple sources.  

Certain events or situations develop over time, particularly health-related announcements. Readers should also keep themselves updated through multiple sources.  

Understand the law.  

The dissemination of fake news is punishable in the Philippines under the Cyber Crime Law, and Article 154 of the Revised Penal Code and other relevant laws. Filipinos should analyze content first before sharing them online.  

The adage is true: Don’t feed the trolls.  

Instead of engaging with them, media experts advise to report and block purveyors of fake news and trolls.