Internal Facebook documents detail how misinformation spreads to users

Ahead of the 2020 election, Facebook implemented safeguards to protect against the spread of misinformation by prioritizing safety over growth and engagement. It rolled back those defenses after the election, allowing right-wing conspiratorial content to fester in the weeks leading up to the January 6 riot at the U.S. Capitol, according to a whistleblower.
Frances Haugen, a former Facebook employee, filed at least eight separate complaints with the Securities and Exchange Commission, alleging that the social network “misled investors and the public about its role perpetuating misinformation and violent extremism relating to the 2020 election and January 6th insurrection,” including removing “safety systems” put in place ahead of the 2020 election.”And as soon as the election was over, they turned them back off or they changed the settings back to what they were before, to prioritize growth over safety,” Haugen said in an interview with “60 Minutes” correspondent Scott Pelley.

Facebook disputes that and says it maintained necessary safeguards, adding in a statement that it has “expressly disclosed to investors” the risk of misinformation and extremism occurring on the platform remains.

In 2019, a year after Facebook changed its algorithm to encourage engagement, its own researchers identified a problem, according to internal company documents obtained from the source.

The company set up a fake Facebook account, under the name “Carol,” as a test and followed then-President Trump, first lady Melania Trump and Fox News. Within one day, the algorithm recommended polarizing content. The next day, it recommended conspiracy theory content, and in less than a week, the account received a QAnon suggestion, the internal documents said.

By the second week, the fake account’s News Feed was “comprised by and large” with misleading or false content. In the third week, “the account’s News Feed is an intensifying mix of misinformation, misleading and recycled content, polarizing memes, and conspiracy content, interspersed with occasional engagement bait,” the internal documents said.

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