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Scientists from top institutions call on Facebook to tackle misinformation

In an open letter first reported by the Washington Post, a group of 143 scientists including more than 60 professors at top U.S. research institutions has called on Facebook to do more to prevent misinformation and hatred from spreading on its platform.

The letter said that social media platforms like Facebook “facilitate the spread of misinformation” and that, “The spread of news that is not vetted for factual accuracy leads to confusion and a mistrust of experts.”

The group consists of researchers currently or previously funded by the Chan Zuckerberg Initiative, a company founded by Mark Zuckerberg and his wife Priscilla Chan and funded by Facebook with the aim to “advance human potential and promote equality in areas such as health, education, scientific research, and energy.” The group includes researchers from institutions such as Harvard University, Stanford University, and the University of California, San Fransisco.

The scientists express particular concern over the recent comments of President Trump. Trump wrote, “when the looting starts, the shooting starts” in regard to the protests against police brutality in the U.S., quoting a segregationist politician from the 1960s. This statement by Trump was taken by platforms like Twitter as an incitement to violence and hidden behind a warning.

But Facebook took no action about Trump’s post, even once employees began rebelling against the platform’s laissez-faire stance. In response, the scientists wrote, “we were disconcerted to see that Facebook has not followed their own policies in regards to President Trump, who has used the Facebook platform to spread both misinformation and incendiary statements.”

Zuckerberg has since announced that Facebook will “review its policies” around threats of force, but has announced little in the way of concrete action. It appears that the site intends to let Trump’s statements stand, whether they contravene its own policies around threats of violence or not.

The letter concluded, “We urge you to consider stricter policies on misinformation and incendiary language that harms people or groups of people, especially in our current climate that is grappling with racial injustice.”

In a statement to Digital Trends, a spokesperson for the Chan Zuckerberg Initiative emphasized that it was a separate entity from Facebook and said, “We have a separate staff, separate offices, and a separate mission: To build a more inclusive, just, and healthy future for everyone through our work in science, education, and on issues related to justice and opportunity. We are grateful for our staff, partners and grantees in this work and we respect their right to voice their opinions, including on Facebook policies.”

We have also reached out to Facebook for comments and will update this story if we receive a response.

Updated June 7: Added statement from Chan Zuckerberg Initiative spokesperson.

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Georgina Torbet
Georgina is the Digital Trends space writer, covering human space exploration, planetary science, and cosmology. She…
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