Facebook’s most viewed article in early 2021 raised doubts about COVID vaccine: NPR

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Facebook is defending itself against accusations by the White House and other critics that it is not doing enough to tackle health misinformation.

Olivier Douliery / AFP via Getty Images


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Olivier Douliery / AFP via Getty Images


Facebook is defending itself against accusations by the White House and other critics that it is not doing enough to tackle health misinformation.

Olivier Douliery / AFP via Getty Images

A news article suggesting the COVID-19 vaccine may have been implicated in the death of a doctor was the most viewed link on Facebook in the United States in the first three months of the year.

But Facebook has refrained from publishing a report containing the information, the company admitted on Saturday.

The social media giant prepared the report on the most viewed posts on its platform from January to March 2021, but decided not to publish it “because there were key fixes to the system that we wanted to make. “, spokesperson Andy Stone. tweeted Saturday.

The New York Times first reported the existence of the report shelved on Friday, two days after Facebook released a similar report on Q2 key posts. Facebook executives debated releasing the previous report, but decided to withhold it, fearing it would make the company look bad. Times reported.

Facebook has come under pressure from the Biden administration and other critics who argue it hasn’t done enough to curb the spread of disinformation about the pandemic and vaccines.

“We are guilty of cleaning up our house a bit before we invited from the company. We have been criticized for that and again, it is not unfair,” Stone wrote on Saturday. He said the company decided to release the unpublished document first trimester report because of the interest it had aroused.

But Stone also pointed out that the article raising questions about possible links between the vaccine and death illustrated “how difficult it is to define misinformation.”

While Facebook bans posts that contain false information about COVID and vaccines or that discourage people from getting vaccinated, it considers it more effective to allow people to discuss potential risks and health issues, rather than to ban such content.

The item, written by the South Florida Sunshine Sentinel and reissued by the Chicago Tribune, headlined “’Healthy’ Doctor Dies Two Weeks After Receiving COVID-19 Vaccine; the CDC is investigating why. The article was factual. When it was originally posted in January, it noted that no link had been found between the gunshot and the death of the Miami doctor. (The page now has an April update that the medical examiner said he was not enough evidence to conclude if the vaccine played a role in the doctor’s death.)

Many news outlets covered the story, but the Tribune link gained the most traction on Facebook: It was viewed by nearly 54 million U.S. users between January and March, according to the company’s report.

Experts who study online platforms say these kinds of stories present challenges for social media companies, because while they don’t break platform rules banning the publication of false information about COVID and vaccines, they are often used by anti-immunization advocates to advance misleading narratives and fuel doubt about vaccines.

The Tribune The link was shared on the social network by several accounts that regularly raise doubts about the vaccination, according to Crowdtangle, a research tool owned by Facebook.

In March, NPR found that almost half of every day so far in 2021, a story about someone who died after receiving a vaccine was among the most popular vaccine-related articles on social media, the data showed. from the media intelligence firm NewsWhip. . The Tribune link on Florida doctor at the top of the list.

Editor’s Note: Facebook is one of the financial backers of NPR.



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