Monday, 11 October 2021

How Facebook is systematically persecuting evidence-based debate


It's been obvious for a long time that misinformation has been a huge problem on social media, but Facebook's cack-handed efforts to counter it are massively counter-productive, because they're systematically punishing the pages that cite their sources, while letting the liars get off completely free!

Any social media site with the slightest sense of responsibility towards the standards of public discourse that they host on their platforms, would seek to actively encourage evidence-based debate, and discourage the spreading of outright lies.

But instead Facebook is systematically punishing pages that cite evidence via unappealable decisions that their evidence constitutes "spam", draconian distribution restrictions to dramatically reduce the audience of the evidence-citing pages, and even profoundly intimidating threats to delete the pages outright if they carry on trying to engage in evidence-based debate.

The draconian restrictions and threats against Another Angry Voice began on September 3rd 2021, with a supposed "spam" violation, which was actually an article on the independent left-wing media site Skwawkbox, posted to justify an assertion about the ongoing persecution of left-wing Jewish activists within the Labour Party.

The only previous "violation" of Facebook standards on record was one solitary algorithm glitch on a June 2020 post, which was absolutely hammering the Daily Mail for their support of Adolf Hitler in the 1930s, where the algorithm somehow concluded that because the image contained a picture of Adolf Hitler, it must have constituted glorification of Nazism. The appeal against this ludicrous algorithm glitch was then ignored.

So just two so-called "violations" in well over a year, and the Another Angry Voice page gets hit with draconian reach restrictions, and intimidated with threats of outright deletion!

Since then, Facebook's "spam" algorithm has gone absolutely wild, with accusations that links to the following all constitute "spam":
  • A link to an article about HGV driver shortages on the UK newspaper The Independent.
  • A link to an article from the trade union Unite posted to counter an outright lie about what trade unions had been saying about Brexit (Facebook obviously took no action against the completely unsourced lie)
  • A link to the website of the British Safety Council
  • A link to the Another Angry Voice website, which has never even contained adverts, let alone "spam". There's obviously something seriously wrong with the system if the algorithm is flagging links as "spam" even when the link is from the website the page that posted it takes its name from!
Every single one of the these five links flagged as "spam" is from entities that have their own Facebook pages! (if they truly were spam-peddlers, why does Facebook allow them to have official presences on their platform?)

And every single appeal against these false accusations of "spam" has been met with a boilerplate notification that Facebook is too short-staffed to actually investigate the appeal, so it just stays on record as a "violation", adding more distribution restrictions, and edging the page ever closer to deletion.

Every single one of the links being punished as "spam" was either posted to justify a factual assertion, or to counter an outright lie with facts and evidence to prove it wrong, yet they're being used as the basis of draconian and unappealable punishments.

The strangling of the page via distribution restrictions is bad enough, but the threat of outright page deletion is a profoundly sinister attack on the concept of evidence-based debate.

If people think they're going to get their page deleted, just for backing up their assertions with facts and evidence, Facebook is actively making itself an anti-scientific forum, in which citing sources is punished, rather than rewarded.

Not only does this systematic persecution of evidence-sharing discourage the responsible practice of citing sources to justify assertions, it also gives succour to misinformation-peddlers by intimidating and dissuading those who would be inclined to counter their lies with links to facts and evidence.

If Facebook really wanted to counter misinformation on its platform, they wouldn't be systematically persecuting evidence-sharers, and restricting the visibility of their pages, they'd be rewarding them, and giving them priority over the misinformation peddlers, and over those who don't bother to evidence their claims.

But Facebook is a profit-seeking corporation, so their priority isn't the fostering of healthy evidence-based debate on their platform, it's whatever makes them the most profit in the short-term.

I'd argue that Facebook's best strategy for the long-term would be to introduce some kind of social peer review, via a gamefied feedback system designed to reward pages that provide verifiable information, and reduce the reach of those that promote lies, and also to reward users that provide accurate peer review feedback, and penalise those that try to game the system though malicious misreporting of links that they just don't like.

But as is always the case with capitalism, it comes down to the conflict between short-term profit and long-term gain.

It's obviously more profitable in the short-term for Facebook to allow the misinformation-peddlers to keep churning out content on their platform, whilst introducing cheap sticking plaster solutions (like appending automatically generated information warnings onto posts based only on keywords, and algorithmic solutions that end up systematically persecuting evidence-based debate).

But they really need to consider whether it's a good long-term branding strategy to run their site as a vast misinformation hub, where misinformation-peddlers spread their lies with impunity and those who approve of, and engage in, evidence-based debate are actively driven away onto other social media platforms.

I'd be more than happy to talk to someone at Facebook about these issues, but it's basically impossible to get hold of anyone there, even to get the false 'violations', distribution restrictions, and intimidating threats removed from my page, let alone to talk about better strategies for combating actual misinformation-peddlers on their platform.

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1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Thomas is right on this one. Whenever I try to post a piece of citation on his FB page to dispute his crazed ramblings, it's automatically deleted.