According to Bloomberg, Facebook has said that it is “exploring removing anti-vaccine information from software systems that recommend other things to read on its social network”.
In layman’s terms, that means that it might instruct its algorithms to stop suggesting pages or articles that are anti-vax or from anti-vax websites whenever those little ‘Suggested Pages’, ‘Articles Similar To This’, or ‘Groups You Might Like’ boxes pop up.
The move comes after Congressman Adam B. Schiff sent a letter to Mark Zuckerberg on Thursday, expressing concern that the Facebook and Instagram algorithms were “surfacing and recommending messages that discourage parents from vaccinating their children”.
Congressman Schiff cited the state of emergency that was declared in Washington state following a measles outbreak last month, writing that:
“There is strong evidence to suggest that at least part of the source of this trend is the degree to which medically inaccurate information about vaccines surface on the websites where many Americans get their information, among them Facebook and Instagram.”
In response, Facebook said it is “exploring additional measures to best combat the problem”, which might include “reducing or removing this type of content from recommendations, including Groups You Should Join, and demoting it in search results, while also ensuring that higher quality and more authoritative information is available.”
The congressman also contacted Google with his concerns, but the web search giant did not immediately respond to Bloomberg’s request for comment. However, Google has already been taking steps to prevent misinformation from surfacing, including adjusting the way videos are recommended on YouTube so that videos with medical misinformation will no longer be recommended to users.
That doesn’t mean misinformation is hidden from users entirely, however. If you search for videos about ‘vaccines’ on YouTube, the eighth result is a documentary called ‘The Truth About Vaccines’ that has over 1.1 million views and a description that reads, “The risks of vaccines are very real, and parents are allowed to question their safety.”
So that’s not great.
But this change, if Facebook were to implement it, would be better than nothing, and would hopefully do something to prevent more people getting sucked into the echo chamber of misinformation and hysteria so easily available to them via the lawless wasteland that is Facebook Groups.
Fingers crossed Facebook decides to go ahead and train its little robots to stop recommending anti-vax groups and pages!
Can you tell I absolutely, with 100% certainty understand how Facebook algorithms work? Good.