By Chris Bovey
An apparent bug in Facebook’s algorithm blocked news articles about the COVID-19 outbreak and has restricted some users from using their service.
Legitimate articles concerning safety and health advice were marked as spam, including academic articles from the World Health Organisation (WHO) and news outlets such as the BBC and the Independent.
People began receiving notifications from Facebook for posts they shared, saying they violated community guidelines, marking them as spam.
In some cases, this led to restrictions being placed on Facebook users, colloquially known as Facebook jail.
This affected me, I noted there was a message from Facebook saying a comment I had made was marked as spam then another message saying they were sorry they had made a mistake and the comment was back up. I don’t even know what comment they were talking about.
30-day Facebook ban
Unfortunately, the 30-day ban they imposed was not lifted. So, I am prevented from using Facebook or responding to messages sent by friends for, by Facebook’s own admission, not breaking their Community Standards.
A similar situation happened a few weeks ago. Facebook removed a post I had published saying it was against their Community Standards. I pressed the appeal button, not expecting much. I was pleasantly surprised to receive a message from Facebook to say having reviewed the content again they had made a mistake and it was back up on Facebook. Unfortunately, even though the post that I couldn’t care less about was put back up they did not remove the seven-day ban they had given me.
This was very distressing as a close childhood friend had passed away at the tender age of 41 and people were contacting me asking about the funeral arrangements. I was unable to reply getting a message saying I could not use Facebook for posting something that violated their Community Standards, despite having successfully appealed the ban and by Facebook’s own admission, I had not posted anything that was against their rules.
It would appear the recent bug triggered another Facebook ban on my account, which this time is for 30 days and even though I received a message telling me they had made a mistake, I’m still prohibited from using their platform for a month.
I use Facebook to communicate with friends as well as my hobby of creating funny political memes, which every now and then get share figures in the tens of thousands. Unfortunately, Facebook is not contactable, so there is nothing I can do about this.
I have developed a dry mild cough, which could just be nothing, especially as I have no fever or other symptoms to suggest COVID-19. However, the official advice from the WHO is anyone with the slightest signs of Coronavirus should self-isolate to be on the safe side. This is because many people who contract it only have mild symptoms, but could still pass it on to someone else not so lucky. I have no idea if this mild dry cough I have developed is COVID-19, but as a responsible person, I’m self-isolating, just in case. Perfect timing for a Facebook ban.
Whether we like it or not, Facebook has a monopoly. I’d much rather use a different social media platform that wasn’t owned by greedy money-grabbing bastards who don’t give a shit about their users, but rather only in making money by bombarding them with adverts.
Pants to Brexit
One of the Facebook pages I help to admin on was Pants To Brexit, which shared satirical memes poking fun at the Brexit mess. The page was one of the most popular anti-Brexit pages on Facebook. Last Wednesday it was unpublished by Facebook with no warning or explanation.
Pants to Brexit has always been a fun page that mocked politicians in the great British tradition of satire. Our memes would usually get a few hundred shares and sometimes more. The Brexiters hated the page and those who want to re-join the EU generally loved it, so a win:win.
Gemma Middleton, founder of Pants To Brexit said: “We have spent the last two years building up this page using humour to poke fun at Brexit and the politicians responsible for this shambles. We are at a loss as to why Facebook should shut down our popular page and consider this a gross violation of freedom of speech. It is a very dark day for democracy when a giant tech corporation like Facebook can shut down political dissent.”
Guy Rosen and Facebook integrity
Guy Rosen, Vice President of Facebook Integrity, tweeted that Facebook had restored all the posts incorrectly taken down.
We’ve restored all the posts that were incorrectly removed, which included posts on all topics – not just those related to COVID-19. This was an issue with an automated system that removes links to abusive websites, but incorrectly removed a lot of other posts too.
— Guy Rosen (@guyro) March 18, 2020
This led to many people complaining that their posts had not been restored and accused Guy Rosen of lying.
It was news to me Facebook had any integrity, considering the Cambridge Analytica scandal that allowed both the Brexit and Trump campaigns to illegally collect data to display very specifically targeted ads aimed at certain users to sway the result.
Facebook CEO, Mark Zuckerberg, has refused to give evidence to a House of Commons committee on Fake News, in the wake of the scandal. Facebook continues to rake in millions for political ads without fact-checking them. In the recent British general election, the governing Conservatives were heavily criticised for misleading or untruthful paid for ads on Facebook. Unlike Twitter, Facebook are happy to take money from political parties funded by very rich corporations who expect to pay less tax in return. Twitter banned all advertising by political parties.
Whether these bans and removal of pages is a coincidence, I simply do not know. Last year I reported how Facebook had given virtually every pro-EU page with a significant audience a shadowban, which meant no posts would come up in organic newsfeeds.
Conspiracy theory or a bug?
It might sound like a conspiracy theory, but when you consider the Cambridge Analytica scandal and how Facebook subsequently tried to cover up the criminal activity, you have to ask are Facebook discreetly trying to shut down liberal voices.
We know they tried to do this in the run-up to the UK general election and now we have seen left-wing activists being handed out bans and anti-Brexit pages unpublished foer no reason in the wake of the Coronavirus.
One meme that was widely shared on Facebook suggested Brexit had cost the government more than it had spent on EU membership. Facebook covered up the meme superimposing the words “False News”. I contacted the New European, one of several news outlets to cover this story to ask they stood by the story and if Facebook had any justification in censoring the meme.
Jonathon Read, a writer for The New European told Feed The Birds:
“We do stand by those claims, the BBC has done its own fact-checking on a podcast based on the story, as well as Bloomberg itself (https://twitter.com/DasGiftBerlin/status/1221367923257827329), and even pro-Brexit newspaper in the form of the Express (https://www.express.co.uk/news/politics/1235498/brexit-costs-so-far-how-much-has-brexit-cost-eu-membership-divorce-bill). None suggest the claim by the end of 2020 is untrue, the quibbles are over methodologies.
I’m disappointed with Full Fact’s ruling which basically means the story is blocked on Facebook because of a partnership they have,” said Mr Read.
Could it be Facebook is censoring pro-EU pages because they don’t like the EU’s Tax Avoidance Directive?
Facebook loves to talk about building communities, yet are dishing out unfair bans at a time when millions of people are voluntarily self-isolating themselves for the greater good of their communities. To cut them off from communicating with their friends on Facebook for no good reason is cruel as it is callous.
The truth is Facebook doesn’t care about its users, yet they should remember if they did not have so many users who generate interesting content then people wouldn’t use the platform and then companies wouldn’t want to waste money advertising with them.
Yes ..this has happened to me …and as a mild mannered middle aged woman from Middlesex was rather surprised ..but..reading this I realised that my FB posts and involvement were along the same lines as you have referred to…..liberal, moderate views.about current political situation and pandemic….
all very interesting……
Yeah they did this to me.
I shared a meme from South Park months ago and their algorithm banned me only a few days ago. I asked for a review and they admitting they got it wrong and apologised. However, they left the 30 day ban on there.
The issue with Facebook is it is administered by faceless morons who probably failed to get a job in McDonalds. As with all large companies they couldn’t care less so long as they are making money.
To have no possible way of overturning a ban just means they are like Rockstar Games; they do what they want, when they want and tough if you don’t like it.
Same thing happened to me, I appealed a ban and Facebook sent a message saying they had made a mistake and the post was back up. However, they did no lift the 7 day ban.
Evil money grabbing corporation that doesn’t give a shit about community, especially doing this when people are being forced to stay at home due to COVID-19.