Monday, November 28, 2022

Facebook froze over vaccine comments flooding users

Facebook froze over vaccine comments flooding users

WASHINGTON – In March, as claims about the dangers and ineffectiveness of coronavirus vaccines circulated on social media and undermined efforts to stop the virus from spreading, some Facebook employees thought they had found a way to help.

By changing the ranking of vaccine messages in people’s news feeds, company researchers realized they could cut down on misleading information about COVID-19 vaccines that people have seen and offer users publications from legitimate sources such as the World Health Organization.

“Given these results, I guess we hope to get it up and running as soon as possible,” wrote one Facebook employee in response to an internal research note.

Instead, Facebook shelved some of the research proposals. There were no other changes until April.

When another Facebook researcher suggested turning off comments on vaccine posts in March until the platform could better deal with the vaccine posts lurking in them, the proposal was ignored.

Critics say the reason Facebook was slow to implement these ideas is simple: the tech giant feared it could affect the company’s bottom line.

“Why don’t you delete the comments? Because participation is the only thing that matters, ”said Imran Ahmed, general director of the Center to Combat Digital Hate, an Internet watchdog group. “It gets attention, and attention equals ad revenue.”

In a statement sent by email, Facebook said it has made “significant progress” this year in reducing the level of misinformation about vaccines in user feeds.

Internal Facebook discussions were disclosed in SEC disclosures and redacted by former Facebook employee-turned-informant legal counsel Francis Haugen to Congress. Edited versions received by Congress were obtained by a consortium of news organizations including the Associated Press.

A collection of documents reveals that in the midst of the COVID-19 pandemic, Facebook has carefully researched how its platforms are spreading misinformation about life-saving vaccines. They also show that frontline employees have consistently come up with unsuccessful anti-vaccine countermeasures solutions. The Wall Street Journal reported on some of Facebook’s efforts to tackle anti-vaccination comments last month.

Facebook’s response raises questions about whether the company has prioritized disagreement and disagreement over the health of its users.

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