Researchers from George Washington University have published a study in the journal Science Advances, which highlights the ineffectiveness of Facebook’s COVID-19 vaccine misinformation policies. The study, titled “The efficacy of Facebook’s vaccine misinformation policies and architecture during the COVID-19 pandemic,” focuses on how the design features of the platform itself hinder its ability to control the spread of falsehoods.
The research points out that misinformation on social media, particularly during a public health crisis like the COVID-19 pandemic, poses serious risks. It fosters distrust in science, undermines public health efforts, and can even incite civil unrest. While attention is often placed on content and algorithms alone, the study argues that addressing misinformation requires a focus on design and architecture as well.
Facebook is designed to create communities based on users’ interests. This is achieved through various architectural features, such as fan pages that promote brands and influencers, enabling a small group of influencers to reach large audiences. These influencers can then form groups intended to exchange information, including misinformation. The study found that efforts to remove anti-vaccine content from Facebook did not significantly decrease engagement with such content.
Furthermore, remaining anti-vaccine content on Facebook became more misleading, often containing false claims about vaccine side effects that could not be fact-checked in real-time. Anti-vaccine content producers were also more effective in coordinating content delivery across pages, groups, and users’ news feeds.
The researchers emphasize that the architecture of Facebook’s platform pushes back against efforts to combat vaccine misinformation. They suggest that social media platforms should collaborate and develop “building codes” informed by scientific evidence to reduce online harms. Similar to how building architects must adhere to safety codes, social media platforms need to incorporate design features that promote public safety, security, and health.
This study is the first of its kind to evaluate the efficacy of Facebook’s attempts to remove misinformation systematically. It underscores the need to address design flaws in social media platforms to effectively combat misinformation during critical times like a pandemic.
– Nature Journal’s Science Advances
– George Washington University