An apparent bug in Facebook’s spam filter pulled a number of news articles down on Tuesday night, with many relating to the coronavirus outbreak.
News Articles Removed for No Reason
Late Tuesday afternoon, reports started to appear online of people unable to post some news articles, often relating to the coronavirus pandemic. Users who had already posted links received notifications from Facebook that their posts had been marked as spam, and removed for going against the site’s community standards.
.@Facebook — Oh wow and then three in a row !
— Kristine Schachinger (@schachin) March 17, 2020
Something really weird is happening on @Facebook. A bunch of coronavirus posts from good sources like Atlantic and Politico are being flagged as spam. Happening to me and others. I'm the moderator of a huge community group, vetting medical info 15 hours a day. FB, don't do this!
— Steve Silberman (@stevesilberman) March 17, 2020
Incredible. @Facebook said my post of this Dallas Morning News article highlighting that two people in their 20s and 30s are in critical care in Dallas County and that young people aren’t invincible went against their guidelines and was removed.https://t.co/HqoIdzzcSi
— Kathryn Watson (@kathrynw5) March 17, 2020
Facebook is currently suffering from a partial outage causing links to legitimate coronavirus related content being wrongly flagged as spam.
Big name publishers titles are having links to their content flagged.
Some page reporting a massive drop in post reach currently.
— Matt Navarra 😷 (@MattNavarra) March 17, 2020
The result for many of the news organizations is that they suffered a huge drop in reach on Facebook. It wasn’t just coronavirus news that was pulled, however. Entire domains seemed to be affected, with all posts that had a link to those domains being completely removed from Facebook. Anyone who attempted to then post any link from those domains could not post them or even send them in private messages.
Examples of these sites affected that I personally noticed included the New York Post, National File, and for some reason, the Radio Times, a British TV listings magazine. It is unclear at this point in time whether it was coronavirus stories that resulted in entire domains being flagged.
Facebook: “A Bug In An Anti-Spam System”
Guy Rosen, Facebook’s VP of Integrity, said that the post removals was due to “a bug in an anti-spam system, unrelated to any changes in our content moderator workforce,” and said that they were in the “process of fixing and bringing all these posts back.”
We're on this – this is a bug in an anti-spam system, unrelated to any changes in our content moderator workforce. We're in the process of fixing and bringing all these posts back. More soon.
— Guy Rosen (@guyro) March 17, 2020
In a later tweet, Rosen said that Facebook had “restored all the posts that were incorrectly removed, which included posts on all topics – not just those related to COVID-19,” and that “this was an issue with an automated system that removes links to abusive websites, but incorrectly removed a lot of other posts too.”
We’ve restored all the posts that were incorrectly removed, which included posts on all topics – not just those related to COVID-19. This was an issue with an automated system that removes links to abusive websites, but incorrectly removed a lot of other posts too.
— Guy Rosen (@guyro) March 18, 2020
The development follows a previous announcement from Facebook, Google, LinkedIn, Microsoft, Reddit, Twitter, and YouTube, who all said they would crack down on misinformation relating to the coronavirus outbreak:
We are working closely together on COVID-19 response efforts. We’re helping millions of people stay connected while also jointly combating fraud and misinformation about the virus, elevating authoritative content on our platforms, and sharing critical updates in coordination with government healthcare agencies around the world. We invite other companies to join us as we work to keep our communities healthy and safe.
The removals therefore do seem rather suspicious – anyone in the conservative media should be wary about Big Tech cracking down on them and using the coronavirus as an excuse.