Facebook froze as comments against the vaccine swarmed users

Washington (AP)

In March, some Facebook employees believed they had found a way to help as claims about the dangers and ineffectiveness of the coronavirus vaccine spread throughout social media, weakening attempts to stop the spread of the virus.

By changing how vaccine posts are ranked in people’s news feeds, the company’s researchers have reduced the misleading information individuals have seen about the COVID-19 vaccine, including the World Health Organization. I realized that I could provide users with posts from legitimate sources.

“Given these results, I think we want to get it up and running as soon as possible,” a Facebook employee wrote in response to an internal note on the survey.

Instead, Facebook has shelved some suggestions from the survey. No other changes were made until April.

When another Facebook researcher proposed in March to invalidate comments on vaccine posts until the platform was able to successfully address the anti-vaccine message lurking in vaccine posts. The proposal was ignored.

Critics say Facebook was slow to take action on ideas for a simple reason. Technology giants were worried that Facebook could affect the company’s profits.

In this April 10, 2018 file photo, Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg testified before a joint hearing of the Commerce and Justice Commission at Capitol Hill, Washington. (AP Photo / Alex Brandon, File)

“Why don’t you remove comments? Because engagement is all that matters,” said Imran Ahmed, CEO of the Digital Hate Countermeasures Center, an internet watchdog group. “It attracts attention, attention is equal to eyeballs, and eyeballs are equal to advertising revenue.”

Facebook said in an email statement that it has made “significant progress” this year by downgrading false alarms for vaccines in user feeds.

Facebook’s internal discussions were revealed in a disclosure made to the Securities and Exchange Commission and provided to Congress in a form edited by Franceshausen’s legal adviser, who turned from a former Facebook employee to a whistleblower. rice field. The edited version received by Congress was obtained by a consortium of media outlets, including the Associated Press.

A pile of documents shows that in the midst of a COVID-19 pandemic, Facebook carefully investigated how the platform disseminated false information about life-saving vaccines. They also revealed that Rank and File employees regularly propose solutions to counter vaccine controversy content on the site, but it didn’t help. The Wall Street Journal last month reported on some of Facebook’s efforts to address anti-vaccine comments.

Facebook’s response raises questions about whether the company prioritized controversy and division over user health.

“These people are touting fear and anger,” said Roger McNamie, a Silicon Valley venture capitalist and now voice critic and early investor in Facebook. “It’s not a fluke. It’s a business model.”

Facebook typically ranks posts by engagement (the total number of likes, dislikes, comments, and reshares). This ranking scheme may be suitable for harmless themes such as recipes, dog photos, and the latest viral singalons. However, Facebook’s own document shows that engagement-based rankings only emphasize polarization, disagreement, and suspicion when it comes to splitting public health issues such as vaccines.

Facebook researchers have changed the way posts are ranked by more than 6,000 users in the United States, Mexico, Brazil, and the Philippines to study ways to reduce false alarms. Instead of seeing posts about vaccines selected based on popularity, these users saw posts selected for reliability.

The result was remarkable. Content blamed by fact checkers decreased by about 12%, and content from prestigious public health organizations such as WHO and the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention increased by 8%. These users also reduced their negative interactions on the site by 7%.

According to the internal exchange contained in the whistleblower’s document, company employees responded enthusiastically to the study.

“Is there any reason not to do this?” A Facebook employee wrote in response to an internal memo outlining how the platform can suppress vaccine-repellent content.

Facebook said it implemented much of the findings, but the delay that occurred at a crucial stage in global vaccine deployment wasn’t another month.

In this February 23, 2018 file photo, Dr. Roberto Ierati is vaccination of a woman at a vaccine center in Rome. (AP photo / Alessandra Tarantino, file)

In a statement, company spokeswoman Dani Lever said the internal document “promotes credible information about COVID-19 and expands its policy to eliminate more harmful COVID and vaccine false information. It does not represent the great progress we have made since then. “

The company also said it would take time to consider and implement the changes.

However, the need to act urgently was not clear. At that time, states across the United States were deploying vaccines to the most vulnerable elderly and sick. And public health officials were worried. Only 10% of the population received the first dose of COVID-19 vaccine. Associated Press-According to a poll at the NORC Public Relations Center, one-third of Americans were thinking of skipping shots altogether.

Nonetheless, Facebook employees admitted in the comments section of the Facebook post that they “did not know” how bad their feelings about the vaccine were. However, according to a February company survey, 60% of comments on vaccine postings were reluctant to anti-vaccine or vaccine.

“It’s a big problem and we need to fix it,” read the March 9 presentation.

In this November 15, 2018 file photo, the Facebook and WhatsApp icons are drawn on the iPhone in Gelsenkirchen, Germany. (AP Photo / Martin Meissner, File)

To make matters worse, company employees admitted that they didn’t have a handle to catch those comments. If so, Facebook didn’t have a policy to remove comments. Free access to everyone allowed users to comment negatively on the vaccine and swarm vaccine posts from the press and humanitarian organizations.

Another internal note posted on March 2 states that “the ability to detect (vaccine hesitation) in comments is poor in English and basically does not exist anywhere else.”

Los Angeles-based writer and fitness instructor Derek Beres confirms that every time he promotes immunization with his account on Facebook-owned Instagram, there is a lot of anti-vaccine content in the comments. Last year, Beres began hosting podcasts with friends after noticing a conspiracy theory about COVID-19 and noticing that the vaccine was swirling in the social media feeds of popular health and wellness influencers.

Earlier this year, when Beres posted a photo of herself receiving a COVID-19 shot, some social media told him that he could die six months later.

“The comment section is a dumpling fire for so many people,” Beres said.

Comments against vaccination on Facebook have become terrible, and despite prominent public health agencies such as UNICEF and the World Health Organization urging people to vaccinate, organizations are trying to get Facebook to promote vaccination. Refused to use the free ads given to. document.

In this October 5, 2021 file photo, former Facebook data scientist Frances Haugen held a hearing at the Senate Trade Science and Transportation Subcommittee on Consumer Protection, Product Safety, and Data Security at Capitol Hill, Washington. I am giving a lecture at. (AP Photo / Alex Brandon, File)

Some Facebook employees had ideas. The company is working to come up with a plan to curb all anti-vaccine sentiment in the comments, but why not completely disable the comments in the post?

A Facebook employee said on March 2 that he was very much proposing to remove all inline comments on vaccine posts as a temporary solution until the comments were sufficient to detect the hesitation of the vaccine and improve the removal. I’m interested. “

The suggestion didn’t go anywhere.

Instead, Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg announced on March 15 that he would begin labeling posts about vaccines that he described as safe.

The move has allowed Facebook to continue to gain high engagement and ultimately benefit from comments against the vaccine, said Ahmed of the Digital Hate Countermeasures Center.

“They were trying to find a way to keep their engagement, but at the same time they seemed to be trying some moves to get rid of the problems they caused,” he said.

Analyzing social media networks and disinformation, saying it’s unrealistic for multi-billion dollar companies like Israel to expect to voluntarily change systems that have proven to be very lucrative. Dan Brahmy, CEO of Israeli technology company Cyabra, said. Brahma said only government regulations could force Facebook to act.

Full coverage: Facebook paper
“The reason they didn’t do that was because they didn’t have to,” Brahma said. “If it damages your bottom line, it’s irreversible.”

Bipartisan legislation in the US Senate will require social media platforms to give users the option to turn off the algorithms that tech companies use to organize their personal news feeds.

Bill sponsor R-South Dakota Senator John Thune has asked Facebook whistleblower Hogen to explain the dangers of engagement-based rankings during his parliamentary testimony earlier this month.

She said there are other ways to rank content — for example, by source quality or in chronological order — it will provide better service to users. She said the reason Facebook doesn’t consider them is because they reduce engagement.

“Facebook knows that when they choose content … we spend more time on their platform, they make more money,” Hogen said.

On August 20, 2021, protesters of the file photo, vaccine and mask obligations will be demonstrating near the Capitol in Santa Fe, New Mexico. (AP Photo / Cedar Attanasio, file)

Haugen’s leaked documentation also reveals that a relatively small number of Facebook vaccination users will be rewarded with large page views under the current ranking system of the technology platform.

An internal Facebook survey released on March 24 warned that most of the “problematic vaccine content” came from a small area on the platform. In the Facebook community, which had the highest distrust of vaccines, the report pegged 50% of anti-vaccine pageviews with just 111 Facebook accounts, or .016%.

“Top producers are most often users who continuously post (vaccine hesitant) content to their feeds,” the study found.

On the same day, the Digital Hate Countermeasures Center published an analysis of social media posts, estimating that between February and March, 73% of sites’ vaccine controversy posts had only 12 Facebook users. In August, Facebook leaders said the public was “defective,” even though an internal study released a few months ago confirmed that a few accounts were driving anti-vaccine sentiment. It was a study.

Earlier this month, an AP-NORC poll found that most Americans accused social media companies such as Facebook and their users of misinformation.

But Ahmed said Facebook shouldn’t be held responsible for the matter.

“Facebook has made the decision that people received false information that caused them to die,” Ahmed said. “At this point, we need to investigate the murder.”


Seitz reported from Columbus, Ohio.

Facebook froze as comments against the vaccine swarmed users

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