Despite assurances to the contrary, Facebook executives are still programming their recommendation algorithm to maximize toxic anti-vax engagement
‘We’re sorry … We know we need to do better.’
(London, July 20, 2021) Facebook — the company whose senior executives have said “we’re sorry” and “we know we need to do better” to so many angry legislators and regulators in the last 15 years that the mantra could probably be trademarked as the corporate tagline — is still programming its algorithms to send users down rabbit holes of anti-vax propaganda.
In response to accusations by President Biden this week, Facebook has claimed that “the facts show that Facebook is saving lives. Period.”
However, NewsGuard’s latest report to the World Health Organisation, filed today, documents what prior reports had also found: that Facebook continues to recommend broad networks of anti-vaccine and health misinformation pages to users and that the platform has not taken action against pages and groups that were shown to be spreading dangerous health misinformation.
As part of the report, a NewsGuard analyst simply “liked” a single anti-vaccine Facebook page, after which a Facebook drop-down suggested several more anti-vaccine pages. Within 10 minutes, the analyst was recommended dozens of pages publishing vaccine and COVID-19 misinformation, each with thousands of followers.
Having “liked” a page called “Vaxxed Truth”, for example, a drop-down menu appeared, recommending other pages spreading misinformation about vaccines, COVID-19, facemasks, 5G technology and other health topics. Once liked, these new pages all featured their own drop-down recommendations menu. On some pages identified by NewsGuard, a sidebar recommends other misinformation pages to users.
The pages suggested by Facebook’s algorithms contained health and anti-vaccine misinformation.
Facebook took no action against pages and groups shown to spread health misinformation
Under the terms of the partnership announced in August 2020 between the WHO and NewsGuard, in earlier reports to the WHO NewsGuard flagged Facebook pages and groups as sharing health misinformation. Several of these pages and groups remain active and growing – and are visible to Facebook’s billions of users unaccompanied by any warnings about their reliability.
Some of these pages, identified by NewsGuard as early as September 2020, have since gained thousands of news followers on the platform.
Examples of misinformation being allowed to spread on these groups and pages include:
False claims that COVID-19 vaccines have killed millions of people
False claims that masks, PCR tests, lockdowns, and vaccines “don’t work”
Two of the pages included in NewsGuard’s June 2021 report have since seen their following increase by 4,000 and 2,500 respectively.
One page, flagged in September 2020, has since published false claims that COVID-19 vaccines are a plan to reduce the world’s population and that the Pfizer COVID-19 vaccine is 99% graphene oxide, among others.
The WHO has termed rampant misinformation and hoaxes on the social media platforms an “infodemic,” resulting in many people being exposed to false content relating to the virus and its treatments, including false claims about the dangers of the vaccine. Hesitancy to take the vaccine is endangering the path to herd immunity in many countries.
Launched in March 2018 by media entrepreneur and award-winning journalist Steven Brill and former Wall Street Journal publisher Gordon Crovitz, NewsGuard provides credibility ratings and detailed “Nutrition Labels” for thousands of news and information websites. NewsGuard rates all the news and information websites that account for 95% of online engagement across the U.S., U.K., Germany, France, and Italy. NewsGuard products include NewsGuard, HealthGuard, and BrandGuard, which helps marketers concerned about their brand safety, and the Misinformation Fingerprints catalog of top hoaxes.
NewsGuard rates each site based on nine apolitical criteria of journalistic practice, including whether a site repeatedly publishes false content, whether it regularly corrects or clarifies errors, and whether it avoids deceptive headlines. It awards weighted points for each criterion and sums them up; a score of less than 60 earns a “Red” rating, while 60 and above earns a “Green” rating, which indicates it is generally reliable.
NewsGuard’s reports for the WHO, which are now also shared with government officials around the world, are produced using two proprietary datasets, both of which are available to be licensed for research and other purposes:
NewsGuard’s Misinformation Fingerprints, a machine-readable catalog of the top current misinformation narratives designed for use by artificial intelligence tools to identify content matching specific false claims.
NewsGuard’s News Website Reliability Ratings, which consists of credibility ratings for over 6,300 news and information websites that account for 95% of online engagement with news in the UK, US, France, Germany and Italy.
NewsGuard’s ratings and Nutrition Labels can be licensed by internet service providers, browsers, news aggregators, education companies, and social media and search platforms in order to make NewsGuard’s information about news websites available to their users. Consumers can access these ratings by purchasing a subscription to NewsGuard, which costs $2.95/month and includes access to NewsGuard’s browser extension for Chrome, Safari, and Firefox and its mobile app for iOS and Android. The extension is available for free on Microsoft’s Edge browser through a license agreement with Microsoft, and NewsGuard’s ratings can also be accessed free through the Edge mobile browser. Hundreds of public libraries globally receive free access to use NewsGuard’s browser extension on their public-access computers to give their patrons more context for the news they encounter online. For more information, including to download the browser extension and review the ratings process, visit newsguardtech.com.
Steven Brill, Co-CEO, firstname.lastname@example.org, +1 212-332-6301
Gordon Crovitz, Co-CEO, email@example.com, +1 212-332-6407