Report accuses Facebook of allowing disinformation in US election

An investigation published Tuesday (23) by Avaaz, a global human rights organization, points out that Facebook allowed the dissemination of false information and content inciting violence, both in the run-up to the election presidential election in the United States and after the day. of the vote.

The organization highlights, among the posts, false allegations of voter fraud and unfounded accusations that Democrats were planning to steal the dispute. Other posts spread lies about then-Democratic candidate and current US President Joe Biden, as well as unfounded claims to extol the alleged accomplishments of former US leader Donald Trump.

Avaaz analyzed which posts the entity identified with the 100 Most Popular Profiles on Facebook that repeatedly shared false or incorrect information. Thus, according to the study, Mark Zuckerberg’s network failed to prevent an estimated 10.1 billion views of these pages and allowing 32 million users to follow profiles that glorify violence.

The survey also points out that this content, even considered by Facebook’s partner verification agencies as false or incorrect, has concentrated around 162 million views in three months of 2020. In addition, more than 90 million voters are believed to have entered the poll. contact with false content on US election fraud.

The analysis, carried out between October 2019 and February 2021, aims to calculate what Avaaz calls “the Facebook failure scale”. “The study shows that American voters have been bombarded with false and misleading information on the platform at every stage of the 2020 electoral cycle,” Laura Moraes, senior campaign coordinator for Avaaz, said in a statement.

In Moraes’ balance sheet, the figures presented show the role of the social network in providing fertile ground which, according to the organization, “has contributed to the radicalization of millions of people and has helped create the conditions for the invasion of Capitole becomes a reality ”.

In a note sent through its notice, Facebook claims that “the report distorts the serious work being done to combat violent extremism and disinformation on our platform” and that Avaaz uses a flawed methodology, according to which all content of a page is classified as problematic of a single content considered false by one of the partner agencies.

According to Avaaz, in a first filter, carried out between October 1, 2019 and September 30, 2020, only content classified by the social network’s partner control agencies was considered false or erroneous. The second step was to select the posts with more than 5,000 interactions or ten individual shares on verified pages, groups or profiles.

Posts subsequently corrected or with clear references indicating that it was false information were excluded, in addition to posts shared by satirical profiles.

The methodology, according to the entity, has led to 343 different claims of content shared by pages, verified profiles, groups and users identified as propagators of false or misleading messages. Pages have been indicted if they disclosed incorrect information in two or more posts with a difference of up to 90 days between them.

In the note, Facebook also says it has done more than any other tech company to “tackle harmful content, having already suppressed more than 900 militarized movements.” “We have also removed tens of thousands of pages, groups and accounts on QAnon from our apps. The company said, referring to followers of the conspiracy theory that the US government is run by a cult of pedophiles that Trump was trying to destroy.

Despite this, Avaaz accuses the platform of taking too long to act, despite warnings from several entities about the dissemination of false information around the presidential election. According to the report, it was not until October last year that Facebook took action to contain these pages – the election was held on November 3 and voters were able to vote in advance.

In order to reach the estimated 10.1 billion views of content considered to be fake, Avaaz took into account all the posts on the hundred or so pages analyzed. According to the organization, the whole – and not just the positions classified as incorrect – are taken into account for two reasons.

First, the organization says, because this kind of content doesn’t spread in isolation – it’s shared by those who put out other kinds of information to get more subscribers and make disinformation go viral. Secondly, because when users interact with these pages, they may have been drawn to content whose information is true, but ends up being exposed to fake posts.

Avaaz points out that while the majority (60%) of the pages tilted to the right, 32% of them had a left bias and 8% did not have a clear political stance, showing that misinformation affects both sides of politics. spectrum, accentuating the polarization.

According to the report, this content had a strong impact on the American electorate. In the days leading up to the election, the organization conducted a survey in which 44% of registered voters polled said they had seen incorrect Facebook information about mail-in vote fraud – and 35% said they believed in the content.

The document points out that this type of survey, carried out by self-report, is often biased, so that the figures present a certain degree of uncertainty. Avaaz, however, says they also strongly suggest that Facebook played a role in connecting thousands of Americans with misinformation about fraud in the US presidential race.

Avaaz also addresses the lack of correcting fake news policies. The 100 most popular articles analyzed by the organization are estimated to have totaled 158 million views in ten months in 2019, a figure that rose to 162 million in three months last year – even though the false claims contained in the posts were contradicted by the news agencies. verification of platform partners.

Problems were also identified when identifying history checks that were verified but did not have the correct markings. According to the organization, the social network could have taken steps to retroactively notify the corrections to all those exposed to these stories.

The mechanism, called “Correct the Record”, was adopted a few days after the election, and was subsequently overthrown by Facebook. When it comes to fake news related to Covid-19, however, the company has issued these alerts.

The New York Times reported that the platform was considering applying the tool to the election, but other projects, like the Election Information Center, were given priority, and the platform had to make “tough choices. “. Facebook officials, however, told the US newspaper that the move was “vetoed by politicians who feared the disproportionate display of notifications to people who shared fake news from right-wing websites.”

For Moraes of Avaaz, “the most disturbing discovery is that Facebook had the tools and the ability to better protect American voters from being targeted by this content, but the platform only used them at the last moment, after significant damage already occurred. occurred “.

Facebook, in the note sent by its review, acknowledged that “the application of the policy is not perfect”, but said it “is always improving as we continuously work with outside experts to ensure that our policies remain up to date and balanced “.

The main coordinator of Avaaz draws attention to the possible consequences of an “ineffective approach” in the 2022 elections in Brazil. The report also highlights the platform’s opportunity to act on important allegations, such as in Mexico, Hong Kong and Germany, scheduled for this year, in addition to the health crisis caused by the coronavirus.

Finally, the document calls on Biden’s management and the US Congress to work on a regulation that addresses transparency in data disclosure – since the platform discloses and evaluates its performance based on its own metrics.

He also calls on lawmakers not to simply investigate the actors of the Capitol invasion and to consider the role of Facebook as a tool facilitating mobilization and radicalization. “Lawmakers must act before conspiracies and insurgencies become a new normal for democracies around the world,” Moraes says.

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