A bug in Facebook’s News Feed ranking algorithm has led to a sudden ‘misinformation surge’ on users’ News Feeds. According to an internal memo report from The Verge, Facebook’s News Feed ranking algorithm gave more distribution to accounts that repeatedly shared fake news, rather than suppressing posts from them. This led to a 30 percent increase in views of misinformed posts globally.
The report also noted that at the time the bug was active, Facebook’s algorithms failed to properly demote posts containing nudity, violence, and “even Russian state media recently reported on Ukraine”. but pledged to stop recommending in response to the invasion of the country.”
Facebook engineers first identified a ‘massive failure’ in the company’s ranking algorithm in October 2021, but it was not fixed until March 11, until it was able to pump in misinformation posts into users’ news feeds. flared up regularly.
Worryingly, Facebook’s internal documents show that the technical issue was first introduced in 2019 but was not detected until October 2021, when it caused a noticeable impact. Simply put, the bug was active since 2019 and was fixed in March of this year.
When detected, the issue was internally ranked as a level-one SEV or site event, which is the term the company uses to describe a high-priority issue. Responding to the matter, a Facebook spokesperson told the publication, “We have detected the root cause of a software bug and implemented the necessary fixes.” The spokesperson also said the bug has had no “meaningful, long-term impact” on the company’s metrics.
It’s worth noting that this incident comes on the heels of the company regularly making advances about the advances that its algorithms were making in downranking posts containing misinformation and other potentially harmful information. The incident also shows how opaque and complex Facebook’s algorithms are, even for its employees. Furthermore, the incident calls into question Facebook’s decision to downrank posts containing harmful content instead of removing them from its platform. This is something that Facebook whistleblower Frances Huagen also highlighted in her testimony before the US Senate last year.
“We have seen repeatedly from documents within our disclosure that Facebook’s AI systems only capture a very small minority of abusive content… to 20%,” she said in the Senate last year.
“I’m a strong proponent of chronological rankings, or orders with periodic spam demotions, because I think we don’t want computers to decide what we focus on,” she said.
Facebook has listed all the posts it demotes on its platform. But the company has so far failed to elaborate on the impact of the downranking. It is safe to say that its algorithms are not as accurate and efficient as the company tells them to be and that more transparency and monitoring is needed to make the platform safe to use.
Facebook bug promoting fake news on News Feed took six months to fix, first appeared on BGR India