In yet another dystopian milestone, Facebook has been flagging a bunch of legitimate news articles – many of which covered the coronavirus pandemic – as fake news due to a massive glitch in its automated moderation system.
On Tuesday, the platform’s content-filtering software lost its shit and treated heaps of shared links as spam or abusive content, hiding them from other users.
Guy Rosen, Facebook’s Vice President of Integrity, said that removed posts had now been restored.
“We’ve restored all the posts that were incorrectly removed, which included posts on all topics – not just those related to COVID-19,” he said on Twitter.
“This was an issue with an automated system that removes links to abusive websites, but incorrectly removed a lot of other posts too.”
We’ve restored all the posts that were incorrectly removed, which included posts on all topics – not just those related to COVID-19. This was an issue with an automated system that removes links to abusive websites, but incorrectly removed a lot of other posts too.
— Guy Rosen (@guyro) March 18, 2020
The incident comes after Facebook sent all of its contracted moderation team home over coronavirus concerns.
Their work can’t be done from home owing to privacy issues and sensitive material, which has put a greater emphasis on automated moderation in recent days. However, the company denies that the glitch was because of a lack of human moderation.
We're on this – this is a bug in an anti-spam system, unrelated to any changes in our content moderator workforce. We're in the process of fixing and bringing all these posts back. More soon.
— Guy Rosen (@guyro) March 17, 2020
While Facebook now claims that the bug is under control, some users are still complaining that they simply cannot post certain links.
Aside from news articles, users also complained of other links being flagged by the software, including links to fundraisers, petitions, scholarly articles and online stores.
Against the backdrop of a global coronavirus pandemic, people were pissed they could not share information and receive news updates.
This is dangerous
Facebook needs to sort it's shit out pic.twitter.com/6UIR6U6Y9v
— Eurethius Pellitier (@Theo137) March 17, 2020
Dear @Facebook – it’s NOT ok to mark physician’s legitimate informational #COVID19 posts as spam. It’s just NOT. Fix this BS please. Many docs are having their posts removed. #meded #irad #somedocs @RadiologyChicks pic.twitter.com/Le7Nj8OrE8
— A Solberg MD (@AgnesSolberg) March 17, 2020
It’s time for Facebook to admit how lame and basic your moderation system is…it’s right here in the headline. You could at least try a little hard with your “spam” aka content flagging system…. pic.twitter.com/IzrCXNthMb
— J. Grygiel ????️???????????? (@jmgrygiel) March 18, 2020
Why the fuck is @Facebook calling an article by @TheMightySite spam? The article about the 92 yr old man who needed toilet paper. What’s up Facebook. Why don’t you want humanity to help each other? pic.twitter.com/Bqc4YRSZi1
— TERRÓR (@TONIFKNTERROR) March 17, 2020
— em (@e_munson) March 17, 2020
Something is happening with Facebook’s spam detection system.
They just removed a post of mine from our podcast discussion group for going against their community standards.
The post was to an article in The Atlantic about how to practice social distancing. pic.twitter.com/2gKQoi89Fr
— Joseph Walker (@JosephNWalker) March 18, 2020
— sarah (@sarah05477742) March 18, 2020
The glitch affected links posted from the BBC, Business Insider, BuzzFeed News, Medium, USA Today, The Independent, NBC, The Atlantic, The Irish Times, and many more.
In Australia, 7 News social media editor Gianni Borrelli said that the many users were still prohibited from sharing links to legitimate 7 News articles.
“Facebook is still threatening to delete the accounts of those sharing 7NEWS.com.au stories – important stories pertaining to coronavirus spread and advice from our government and health officials,” he tweeted.
Facebook is still threatening to delete the accounts of those sharing https://t.co/1ZL8VobToy stories—important stories pertaining to coronavirus spread and advice from our government and health officials. Will this be addressed too?
— Gianni Borrelli (@gianniborrelli) March 18, 2020
There has been plenty of coronavirus-related fake news as of late, and much of it has been shared on Facebook in Australia. But even though content filtering can be useful in these circumstances, this time it simply prevented the dissemination of important information during a pandemic.
Image: Getty Images / Budrul Chukrut