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Social Media Promised To Block Covid-19 Misinformation; But They're Also Blocking Legit Info Too

from the content-moderation-is-impossible-at-scale dept

Sing it with me, folks: content moderation is impossible to do well at scale. Over the last few weeks, all of the big social media platforms have talked about their intense efforts to block misinformation about Covid-19. It appeared to be something of an all hands on deck situation for employees (mostly working from home) at these companies. Indeed, earlier this week, Facebook, Google, Linkedin, Microsoft, Reddit, Twitter, and YouTube all released a joint statement about how they're working together to fight Covid-19 misinformation, and hoping other platforms would join in.

However, battling misinformation is not always so easy -- as Facebook discovered yesterday. Yesterday afternoon a bunch of folks started noticing that Facebook was blocking all sorts of perfectly normal content, including NY Times stories about Covid-19. Now, we can joke all we want about some of the poor NY Times reporting, but to argue that its reporting on Covid-19 is misinformation would be, well, misinformation itself. There was some speculation, a la YouTube's warning that this could be due to content moderators being sent home -- and not being allowed to do their content moderation duties over privacy concerns, but the company said that it was "a bug in an anti-spam system" and was "unrelated to any changes in our content moderation workforce." Whether you buy that or not is your choice.

Still, it's a reminder that any effort to block misinformation is going to be fraught with problems and mistakes, and trying to adapt rapidly, especially on a big (the biggest) news story with rapidly changing factors and new information (and misinformation) all the time, is going to run into some problems sooner or later.

Filed Under: content moderation, content moderation at scale, covid-19, errors
Companies: facebook

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  1. identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 18 Mar 2020 @ 4:19pm

    Zuckerberg's Facebook announcement

    Mark Zuckerberg

    March 3 at 9:52 PM ·


    I wanted to share an update on the steps we're taking to respond to the coronavirus. This is now a global challenge and we’ve spent the past month working with health authorities to coordinate our response.

    We're focused on making sure everyone can access credible and accurate information. This is critical in any emergency, but it's especially important when there are precautions you can take to reduce the risk of infection. If you search for coronavirus on Facebook, you'll see a pop-up that directs you to the World Health Organization or your local health authority for the latest information. If you're in a country where the WHO has reported person-to-person transmission, you'll also see it in your News Feed.

    Given the developing situation, we're working with national ministries of health and organizations like the WHO, CDC and UNICEF to help them get out timely, accurate information on the coronavirus. We're giving the WHO as many free ads as they need for their coronavirus response along with other in-kind support. We'll also give support and millions more in ad credits to other organizations too and we'll be working closely with global health experts to provide additional help if needed.

    We're also focused on stopping hoaxes and harmful misinformation. It's important that everyone has a place to share their experiences and talk about the outbreak, but as our community standards make clear, it's not okay to share something that puts people in danger. So we're removing false claims and conspiracy theories that have been flagged by leading global health organizations. We're also blocking people from running ads that try to exploit the situation -- for example, claiming that their product can cure the disease.

    As well as accessing information, we're also looking at how people can use our services to help contribute to the broader efforts to contain the outbreak. Researchers are already using aggregated and anonymized Facebook data -- including mobility data and population density maps -- to better understand how the virus is spreading.

    Scientific tools developed by the Chan Zuckerberg Initiative can help with this too. Through a partnership between our philanthropy and the Gates Foundation, researchers in Cambodia were able to sequence the full genome of the virus that causes COVID-19 in days, making it much easier and faster for them to identify if people had the virus. The team created a new public version of the IDSeq tool so scientists everywhere can study the full genome within the broader context of coronavirus sequences uploaded around the world.

    The Chan Zuckerberg Biohub has also been part of the team working to develop the cell atlas -- a periodic table of different cell types in the body. As part of this work, they supported a project to map out all the cells in the lung. Researchers are now using this to investigate potential ways to limit lung damage and address the symptoms of coronavirus. This is one of the fundamental ideas behind CZI -- to do basic scientific research to create building blocks that health organizations can use to find cures for diseases.

    There are other ways that technology can help people adapt to the outbreak too. Communities around the world are dealing with quarantines and other disruption to their daily lives, and they’re using the internet more to stay connected even when they can't be together in person. We know from previous emergencies -- and from places where there have already been outbreaks of coronavirus across the world -- that in times of crisis people rely on communication tools even more than usual. That means that as well as helping people access information, we have a responsibility to make sure our services are stable and reliable to handle this load and we take that seriously too.
    There's more we can do to help people feel less isolated and help one another and we're working on some ideas we'll share in the next few weeks, but for now the focus is on slowing the spread of the outbreak itself. This is a difficult time for a lot of people and I'm thinking of everyone affected by this -- the people who are sick or quarantined, their friends and family and of course the healthcare workers who are always on the frontlines of any outbreak. We'll share more updates soon.

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