On Friday, the CCDH (Center for Countering Digital Hate) said that Facebook has failed to name 80% of posts or articles promoting the bioweapons conspiracy theory. And that the US is funding the bioweapon use in Ukraine.
This comes as social media firms promise to restrain Russian disinformation on the Ukraine war. Research shows they’ve continued to fail in that regard while allowing disproven posts and narratives to get to millions of readers.
On a sample of posts studied from 24 February to 14 March on external articles with disproven claims on bioweapons, the CCDH research group discovered that Facebook failed to label articles as either “false information,” “missing context”, “partly false information,” or “outright false information” in about 80% of cases.
According to Imran Ahmed, CCDH chief executive, if our researchers can identify false information about Ukraine openly circulating on its platform, it is within Meta’s capability to do the same. “But we found that in the vast majority of cases, conspiracy theories are given a free pass.”
Meanwhile, the CCDH team has used NewsWhip, the social analytics tool, to identify over 120 posts from external sites with misleading or false claims on bioweapons labs and even misrepresented statements by US officials.
The team discovered that the articles in the sample had garnered over 150,000 shares, likes, and comments on Facebook.
Against this, CCDH has told Facebook to thoroughly implement its “partly false information” and “false information” labels and also enhance its use of “missing context” labels.
For Ahmed, “Russia’s propaganda campaigns have benefited for years from Meta turning a blind eye to disinformation,” And despite taking action against state channels under enormous pressure, Meta is failing badly to contain major disinformation narratives that benefit Putin’s regime.”
The spread of bioweapons theory
The bioweapons theory has been spreading since the early days of the Ukraine war.
The theory started with the fringe QAnon accounts. And ultimately made its way to bigger platforms like Fox News.
The theory and propaganda have continued to spread on popular social media, including Facebook.
However, the White House has condemned the allegation, stating it might have been produced by Russia to justify a likely use of chemical weapons in Ukraine.
Kevin McAlister, the Facebook spokesman, has responded that the CCDH study “misrepresents the scale and scope of our efforts”.
“In fact, we have the most robust system for fact-checking false claims of any platform and our fact-checking partners have debunked dozens of claims about the Ukrainian bioweapons hoax in several languages including Ukrainian, Russian, and English,” Kevin McAlister replied.
According to past studies by CCDH, Facebook has struggled to implement its rules concerning labeling state-influenced news sources.
In another vein, a study from American Media Matters found that YouTube has failed to remove hundreds of thousands of videos on Biolabs theory and equally profited from them via its monetized channels.
Though some experts believe that Facebook is now improving to thoroughly restrain or stop state propaganda, others like the CCDH think that disinformation would continue to spread online provided it influences the business model.