Coronavirus (918) Misinformation “Super-Spreaders” Thrive on Facebook

19 August, 2020

(With thanks to Global Health Now)

'Despite pledges to tackle misinformation, Facebook has allowed COVID-19 lies and conspiracies to spread like wildfire on the platform, according to a damning new report by the nonprofit Avaaz.'

Facebook's Algorithm: A Major Threat to Public Health

'Avaaz uncovers health misinformation spreading networks with an estimated 3.8 billion views in the last year - and shows how to quarantine this infodemic'

For the benefit of those who may not have immediate web access, here is the executive summary from the report:

1. Facebook is failing to keep people safe and informed during the pandemic.

Global health misinformation spreading networks spanning at least five countries generated an estimated 3.8 billion views on Facebook in the last year.

Health misinformation spreading websites at the heart of the networks peaked at an estimated 460 million views on Facebook in April 2020, just as the global pandemic was escalating around the world.

Content from the top 10 websites spreading health misinformation had almost four times as many estimated views on Facebook as equivalent content from the websites of 10 leading health institutions, such as the World Health Organisation (WHO) and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).

Only 16% of all health misinformation analysed had a warning label from Facebook. Despite their content being fact-checked, the other 84% of articles and posts sampled in this report remain online without warnings.

2. Report reveals top ‘superspreaders’ of health misinformation on Facebook.

From RealFarmacy, one of the biggest health misinformation spreading websites, to GreenMedInfo, a website that presents health misinformation as science.

On Facebook, public pages act as one of the main engines for sharing content from websites spreading health misinformation, accounting for 43% of the total estimated views.

We identified 42 Facebook pages as key drivers of engagement for these top health misinformation spreading websites. They are followed by more than 28 million people and generated an estimated 800 million views.

3. There is a two-step solution to quarantine this infodemic that could reduce belief in misinformation by almost 50% and cut its reach by up to 80%.

Step 1: Correct the Record by providing all users who have seen misinformation with independently fact-checked corrections. This could decrease belief in misinformation by an average of almost 50%.

Step 2: Detox the Algorithm by downgrading misinformation posts and systematic misinformation actors in users' News Feeds, decreasing their reach by up to 80%.

4. Facebook has yet to effectively apply these solutions at the scale and sophistication needed to defeat this infodemic, despite repeated calls from doctors and health experts to do so.


Best wishes, Neil

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HIFA profile: Neil Pakenham-Walsh is coordinator of the HIFA global health campaign (Healthcare Information For All - ), a global community with more than 19,000 members in 177 countries, interacting on six global forums in four languages in collaboration with WHO. Twitter: @hifa_org FB: