Skip to main content

Facebook's promise to remove fake coronavirus information backfires when a bug removes real news instead

Facebook's promise to remove fake coronavirus information backfires when a bug removes real news instead
(Image credit: Shutterstock)

Facebook's promise to keep coronavirus misinformation off its platform fell short this week when a software bug removing legitimate news was discovered. 

With the number of cases of coronavirus mounting all over the world, it's now more important than ever to keep people well-informed about the precautionary measures that must be taken in order to reduce the spread of the disease. Millions of people all over the world are under various forms of lockdown, whether that means self-quarantine, social distancing, or shelter-in-place. 

People have always turned to social media to get their news - especially Facebook. Less than two weeks ago, the social media giant promised to fight fake news (opens in new tab) by removing posts violating their policies and by promoting content and ads by the CDC, WHO, and other official channels. It even offered free ad space to these organizations to increase visibility of more legitimate channels of information. 

But if you've logged onto Facebook in the past two weeks, you've probably still seen questionable content floating around the platform, such as posts suggesting that you should your breath for ten seconds: if you can, you are cleared of COVID-19; if you cannot, it may be too late. To be clear, this is false information. 

This is no coincidence. Facebook uncovered a bug in its anti-spam system that was marking legitimate COVID-19 news as spam instead of flagging fake content. It was found after Twitter users noticed the mistakes. 

Guy Rosen, Facebook's Vice President of Integrity, stated on Twitter (opens in new tab) that the issue has now been resolved. 

"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."

Coronavirus pandemic: Fact versus fiction

With the media and politicians sometimes muddling the facts, it's best to rely on the most official channels of information: health-related organizations on the front lines, such as the CDC and WHO. Right now, depending on where you are in the United States, the advice is to stay inside as much as possible, making exceptions for getting the essentials like foods, gas, and medicine. You can exercise outside - as long as you practice social distancing (staying at least six feet away from others). Health officials are begging young people to stay home: you may not be at risk for complications, but if you are asymptomatic and go out in public, you may pass COVID-19 on to someone who is at higher risk of death, such as the elderly and the immuno-suppressed. 

If you are observing social distancing or self-isolation, there are a multitude of activities you can engage in. Try the best online piano lessons (opens in new tab) to discover a new instrument from your own home, or learn a new language with the best learn Spanish software (opens in new tab) and apps. 

Sophie is a born and bred New Yorker who, paradoxically, loves being in the great outdoors. Her favorite pastimes include running, baking, and writing. She also spends her time volunteering and leading volunteer projects with the Good+ Foundation and Achilles International when not providing information on the best deals, products, and services on the internet to TopTenReviews readers.