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Facebook bug caused valid coronavirus articles to be marked as spam

Facebook scrambled to deal with a News Feed bug on Tuesday that filtered out legitimate news articles, including some about the coronavirus, formally known as COVID-19.

The flaw incorrectly identified a number of valid articles as spam, blocking links to news sites and preventing people from sharing the articles with others.

Commenting on the matter after a fix had been issued, Guy Rosen, Facebook’s vice president for integrity, tweeted: “We’ve restored all the posts that were incorrectly removed, which included posts on all topics — not just those related to COVID-19.”

Rosen said the error had been caused by a problem “with an automated system that removes links to abusive websites, but incorrectly removed a lot of other posts too.”

With COVID-19 cases continuing to rise, the hiccup comes at a critical time for social media companies as they try to promote legitimate news sources over misinformation.

In February, as the virus began to take hold in several countries, the World Health Organization (WHO) held a meeting with Facebook, Twitter, and Google, among others, to discuss ideas on how to prevent the spread of misinformation related to COVID-19.

WHO’s Andy Pattison said at the meeting that “Twitter and YouTube and other social media sites are still awash with misinformation” that can include fake news articles, conspiracy videos, and unsubstantiated claims.

Digital Trends offers some useful tips on how to spot misinformation online, such as always being sure to consider the provider of a news story or essay, as well as checking the source of any stats contained within it.

To provide people with up-to-date stats on COVID-19, the Maryland-based Center for Systems Science and Engineering (CSSE) at Johns Hopkins University built a comprehensive online dashboard that uses data from several verified sources. Microsoft has also launched a COVID-19 tracker as part of its Bing search engine, using data from a range of organizations.

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Trevor Mogg
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