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Study: False health information viewed nearly 4B times on Facebook

The report called on Facebook to provide all users with independently fact-checked corrections and downgrade erroneous posts by adjusting its algorithms. File Photo by Gian Ehrenzeller/EPA-EFE
The report called on Facebook to provide all users with independently fact-checked corrections and downgrade erroneous posts by adjusting its algorithms. File Photo by Gian Ehrenzeller/EPA-EFE

Aug. 19 (UPI) -- Billions of Facebook users in several countries came across some type of false health information on the social media platform over the past year, according to a new analysis published Wednesday.

Advocacy group Avaaz said in a 33-page report that it found health misinformation on the platform that generated at least 3.8 billion page views in at least five nations. Websites spreading the inaccurate information peaked at about 460 million views in April in the early weeks of the COVID-19 pandemic, it noted.

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Avaaz said its findings underscore that Facebook must take greater steps to filter misinformation that can endanger the safety of billions of users who seek health advice online.

"Many of these networks, made up of both websites and Facebook pages, have spread vaccination and health misinformation on the social media platform for years," the assessment said. "However, some did not appear to have had any focus on health until February 2020 when they started covering the COVID-19 pandemic."

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The report covered Facebook users in the United States, Britain, France, Germany and Italy and said anti-vaccine propaganda was also found on the popular platform.

"Factually inaccurate or misleading content doesn't spread in isolation," it said. "It's often shared by actors who are spreading other types of content, in a bid to build followers and help make misinformation go viral."

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Campaign director Fadi Quran said the algorithm that Facebook uses to gather information is a "major threat to public health."

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"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," Quran said.

The report called on Facebook to provide all users with independently fact-checked corrections and downgrade erroneous posts by adjusting its algorithms.

A Facebook representative said it shares "Avaaz's goal of limiting misinformation," but added that the new findings don't account for the measures the company has already taken to prevent the spread of misinformation.

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