Health Misinformation Racked up 3.8 Billion Views on Facebook

A report by Avaaz found health misinformation had four times the views of leading, trusted health organizations like the WHO

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A report by Avaaz found that health misinformation on Facebook has racked up billions of views in the last year, by tracking how content from a sample of misinformation-sharing websites was shared on Facebook by interpreting available Facebook data between May 2019 and May 2020.

Groups and pages which have been spreading misleading and false information have gained 3.8 billion views, many of which gained the most traction since April 2020, at the height of the Covid-19 pandemic and government-enforced lockdowns.

In April this year, 10 ‘superspreaders’ of health misinformation had “almost four times as many views” as 10 leading health institutions such as the World Health Organization and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, Reuters reports.  

Among other social media sites like TikTok, Twitter, and Facebook’s own WhatsApp, Facebook has cracked down massively on health misinformation surrounding the pandemic using fact-checking labels and taking down posts sharing such information. 

The social media giant released a statement on Wednesday, stating: “We share Avaaz’s goal of limiting misinformation, but their findings don’t reflect the steps we’ve taken to keep it from spreading on our services,” adding that Facebook has “directed over 2 billion people to resources from health authorities” and “applied warning labels to 98 million pieces of COVID-19 misinformation”.

According to Reuters, a Facebook spokeswoman said, “Thanks to our global network of fact-checkers, from April to June, we applied warning labels to 98 million pieces of COVID-19 misinformation and removed 7 million pieces of content that could lead to imminent harm,” although Avaaz found that Facebook’s fact-checking labels were applied inconsistently, even when information had been proven to be false, with only 16% of the content Facebook identified as health misinformation labeled as such.

Campaign director at Avaaz, Fadi Quarn, said: “Facebook’s algorithm is a major threat to public health. Mark Zuckerberg promised to provide reliable information during the pandemic, but his algorithm is sabotaging those efforts by driving many of Facebook’s 2.7 billion users to health misinformation-spreading networks”.