Study. Facebook algorithm helped the anti-vaccine movement spread misinformation about the pandemic

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After the outbreak of the covid-19 pandemic, the anti-vaccine movement took advantage of the situation to increase the dissemination of false information in this regard. Faced with criticism, Facebook removed statements such as “vaccines kill” from its walls. However, a study of Magazine Scientific Advances revealed that the anti-vaccine movement found a way to take advantage of the social network's algorithm to spread fake news.

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The study analyzed more than 200 thousand publications made before Facebook will eliminate content belonging to the movement in 2020. Stop Mandatory Vaccination (Stop mandatory vaccination) through the CrowdTangle tool, belonging to Meta. That campaign sought to stop the spread of the growing wave of fake news about covid-19 and the vaccination system in general.

The magazine's investigation showed that the hierarchical design that Facebook uses (first pages, then groups, and finally what other users share) ended up making it easier for anti-vaccine accounts to spread enormous amounts of misinformation related to the covid-19 pandemic without that users could stop it.

In addition, the study explains that Facebook's algorithm rewards content that has more likes or angry reactions with greater diffusion, which causes even the interactions of users who disagreed with the false content helped spread it.

In 2020, as part of its campaign to reduce misinformation about Covid-19, Facebook reduced the “weight” of angry reactions to zero. However, this did not cause the algorithm to reduce the interactions and dissemination of those publications.

The authors of the study claim that Facebook has failed to reduce misinformation because it does not favor the plurality of content per account, exposing the user to content that is increasingly similar to which they have already reacted.

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The study concludes that the only way to reduce misinformation and prevent movements such as anti-vaccines from gaining greater relevance is to rDesign all social networks to promote only confirmed information by health authorities.

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