White House Dispute Reveals Facebook’s Misinformation Blind Spot


“The suggestion that we don’t put resources to fight COVID misinformation and support the distribution of the vaccine is not supported by the facts,” said Facebook spokesperson Dani Lever. “Without a standard definition for vaccine misinformation and with both false and factual content (often shared by mainstream media outlets) potentially discouraging vaccine acceptance, we focus on the results – measuring whether people using Facebook accept Covid-19 vaccines. ”

Executives at Facebook, including CEO Mark Zuckerberg, said the company has committed to eliminating Covid-19 misinformation since the start of the pandemic. The company said it had removed more than 18 million Covid-19 misinformation, although it did not specify in what time frame.

Experts working on disinformation said the number of pieces Facebook removed was not as informative as how many were uploaded to the site or what groups and pages people saw where misinformation was spreading.

“They need to open the black box, which is the content sequencing and content promotion architecture. Take that black box and open it for scrutiny by independent researchers and the government,” said Imran Ahmed, president of the Center for Combating Digital Hate, a nonprofit organization dedicated to fighting disinformation. “We don’t know how many Americans have been infected with misinformation,” he said.

Using publicly available data from CrowdTangle, a Facebook-owned program, Ahmed’s group found that 12 people were responsible for 65 percent of Covid-19 misinformation on Facebook. The White House, including Mr. Biden, repeated that figure last week. Facebook says this is incorrect but did not provide details.

Renée DiResta, a disinformation researcher at Stanford’s Internet Observatory, urged Facebook to release more detailed data; this will allow experts to understand how false claims about the vaccine are affecting certain communities within the country. The information known as “prevalence data” mainly looks at how prevalent a narrative is, such as what percentage of people in a service community have seen it.

“The reason more detailed prevalence data is needed is because false claims are not spread equally among all audiences,” said Ms. DiResta. “In order to effectively counter the specific false claims that communities see, NGOs and researchers need a better understanding of what’s going on in these groups.”


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