How a Facebook bug promoted fake news instead of making it disappear

According to the specialized American site The Verge, a bug in the Facebook platform has led to the highlighting of questionable content which, on the contrary, should have seen their visibility reduced on the social network. The bug was felt from October to March.

Facebook has been affected by a major bug in its algorithms… since 2019 © AFP / OLIVIER DOULIERY

It is, for Facebook, a “Site Event” (SEV), the level of critical alert internally, reserved for the most important crises. the American media The Verge, got its hands on an internal Meta incident report that claimed the social media platform was hit by a major bug, which caused errors in highlighting content. A bug affecting an algorithm that affects “half of all views on newsfeeds” of Facebook in the world, and which made its effects felt from October until its correction on March 11, according to information that The Verge was able to obtain.

The problem, identified in October by Facebook engineers, concerns the algorithm responsible for moving up, or on the contrary, downgrading, content according to a classification (content containing nudity, violence, but also false information and hateful content). Indeed, publications considered to be “border”, that is to say at the limit of infringing the conditions of use of the site, are identified by an artificial intelligence and are supposed to be less visible. In 2018, Mark Zuckerberg explained that this system made it possible to go against the tendency to click more easily on “more sensationalist and provocative” content. The algorithm is also intended to “downgrade” content suspected of violating the terms of use but which requires human verification.

A 30% increase in visibility for questionable content

Last year, the same fate of “demotion” was to be reserved for all political content on Facebook. This ranking and highlighting/demoting algorithm has therefore taken on considerable importance, but the other side of the coin is that in the event of a bug, such as the one identified by Facebook engineers, these publications are highlighted. It was an internal memo that reported on this issue, but the company confirmed to The Verge this malfunction, adding that these posts, some of which contain false information or are linked to Russian state media, have seen their visibility increase by 30%.

Facebook engineers, if they claim to have repaired the failure, are however unable to explain its origin. The first problems date back to 2019, but according to information from internal documents, they did not have an impact with October 2019. A spokesperson for Meta assured The Verge that this bug would not have an impact at long term on the platform.

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How a Facebook bug promoted fake news instead of making it disappear

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