Facebook on Tuesday evening started flagging some coronavirus-related information and articles as spam, causing the posts to be hidden or removed and sparking widespread confusion about why the platform was censoring accurate information about the virus amid a global pandemic.
Guy Rosen, VP of integrity at Facebook, said in a tweet that the posts were being removed due to a “bug in an anti-spam system.”
“We’re in the process of fixing and bringing all these posts back,” he wrote.
Something is going on on Facebook. I’ve seen four separate people in the past couple hours saying their posts about coronavirus were marked as “spam”. And one of them is an epidemiologist.— Aylan (AY like Day - LAN like LandBack) Couchie (@AylanX) March 17, 2020
Then my link to the Canadian gov’s website about EI was removed too. #COVID19 pic.twitter.com/tFAUqLzHus
One Twitter user posted screenshots showing multiple people on Facebook reporting that links to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) were also being flagged and removed. Links to information on the European Centre for Disease Prevention and Control (ECDC) website were also marked as spam and taken down, according to screenshots posted on social media.
Among the posts marked as spam were articles about the outbreak sparking anti-Asian racism and government information about new coronavirus cases. Facebook also removed an article about a teenager developing new technology to fight misinformation about coronavirus.
The issue appears to be affecting large numbers of users across the United States and Canada.
Incredible. @Facebook said my post of this Dallas Morning News article highlighting that two people in their 20s and 30s are in critical care in Dallas County and that young people aren’t invincible went against their guidelines and was removed.https://t.co/HqoIdzzcSi— Kathryn Watson (@kathrynw5) March 17, 2020
This comes just as both countries are taking unprecedented steps — including widespread closures of schools and shelter-in-place orders in major cities — to contain the spread of the virus, which emerged in Wuhan, China, in December and has now spread to every continent except Antarctica.
Facebook announced in January that it was taking steps to remove coronavirus-related misinformation, including posts promoting false cures for the virus. The platform also tweaked its algorithm to ensure that people see accurate information from reputable sources at the top of their news feed.
Facebook has faced frequent criticism over its fact-checking program, which was launched in December 2016 amid intense backlash over the platform's role as a hub for disinformation during the U.S. presidential election.
Last year, Facebook came under fire when it was revealed that it had partnered with the right-wing news site The Daily Caller, which was co-founded by Fox News host Tucker Carlson and is widely known for peddling disinformation and hate, to fact-check articles.
This post will be updated as more information is available.