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A bug in Facebook’s system led to a surge of misinformation

It took engineers six months to find a fix for the bug.

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Image: KnowTechie

A bug in Facebook’s post ranking system has recently been promoting posts that contain misinformation instead of suppressing them. The company first noticed the bug in October. It wasn’t able to fix the problem until March, five months later.

An internal document from within the company was recently obtained by The Verge revealing this issue. The platform has a system in place to suppress posts from repeated misinformation spreaders. But the system was failing to do so, giving these posts more attention than they deserved.

But misinformation posts weren’t the only type of posts slipping through. The bug also interfered with Facebook’s ability to suppress other kinds of content, like violence or potential nudity.

The documents obtained say that a surge of misinformation in October led to the discovery of the issue. However, engineers were not able to find the cause at the time, but the surge settled down some.

Of course, it flared back up over the next few months before Facebook finally fixed the bug on March 11. A company spokesperson confirmed the bug with The Verge and claimed that the bug “has not had any meaningful, long-term impact on our metrics.”

Downranking is a system that Facebook uses to help moderate some of the content that is in a sort of gray area of what’s allowed.

The platform downranks and hides posts that don’t explicitly break the rules but have extra potential to be controversial so as not to promote misinformation or content that comes close to breaking the rules.

But when that system breaks, there’s nothing in place to stop those kinds of posts from getting through. And since people tend to interact more with controversial posts on Facebook, these “borderline” posts tend to get more traffic.

Fortunately, Facebook’s engineers eventually fixed the bug, though it took quite a while. Hopefully, the next time something like this happens, the company is able to address the issue much quicker.

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Staff writer at KnowTechie. Alex has two years of experience covering all things technology, from video games to electric cars. He's a gamer at heart, with a passion for first-person shooters and expansive RPGs. Shoot him an email at alex@knowtechie.com

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