Facebook’s News Feed spam filter malfunctioned on Tuesday, blocking links to legitimate websites and preventing users from sharing them, including some links to coronavirus information.
A source tipped off TechCrunch to the issue, but not all coronavirus links appear to be affected by the bug.
Facebook said it was aware of the issue and working on a solution. By 6:30 p.m., a company executive said it fixed the problem but some users said they were still running into the issue.
“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, who oversees Facebook’s work on safety and integrity said in a tweet. He didn’t say how many posts had been restored.
The bug highlights some of the technical challenges social media companies face as they step up efforts to crack down on misinformation and other content that violate their rules. Hoaxes about the novel coronavirus includes false claims that it’s caused by 5G or drinking bleach will cure the virus.
Some users responding to Rosen’s tweet reported that other posts such as cat photos, a community flier and an article about gaming in quarantine were being flagged as spam. It’s unclear how many users were impacted by this bug.
CBS News reporter Kathryn Watson tweeted that Facebook flagged a Dallas Morning News article about two students testing positive for coronavirus as spam. The post was later restored.
Attorney Mike Godwin said in a tweet that Facebook also marked a coronavirus-related Times of Israel article as spam. “Facebook decided that my posting of this Times of Israel article is spam. (It’s not spam.),” Godwin tweeted.
Facebook has been battling the spread of misinformation and harmful content regarding the pandemic. The social network said in January that it would remove posts about false cures and prevention methods as well as content that discourages people from seeking treatment. The company is also blocking hashtags that’re being used to spread misinformation about the outbreak on Instagram.
Facebook has also banned ads that mention a cure or preventative measures for the disease.