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Bug causes Facebook to mark some posts on coronavirus as spam

Bug causes Facebook to mark some posts on coronavirus as spam
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A bug in Facebook's anti-spam system caused the platform to mistakenly mark some posts from individuals and publishers about the novel coronavirus as spam, a top Facebook official said Tuesday.

Guy Rosen, Facebook's vice president of integrity, said in a tweet that the errors were caused by "an issue with an automated system that removes links to abusive websites, but incorrectly removed a lot of other posts too."

"We’ve restored all the posts that were incorrectly removed, which included posts on all topics - not just those related to COVID-19," he said.

He denied that the problem stemmed from Facebook's decision to send home contract workers who review content on the site in response to the outbreak of the virus.

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He made the denial in direct response to a tweet from the company's former security chief, Alex Stamos, who was speculating that the contract workers going home had caused the issue. It remains unclear how many posts were impacted by the bug. 

The statement from Facebook came after several people posted about experiences in which content they shared about the novel coronavirus was flagged as spam. 

CBS White House reporter Kathryn Watson said that a post she shared including a link to a Dallas Morning News story about a pair of young individuals contracting the virus was removed. She added that the post was allowed to remain on the platform after an appeal, only for it to be removed again. 

"There was nothing offensive or misleading in my post. We need more good information, not less," she said. 

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Several different Twitter users shared similar examples of Facebook flagging news articles about the virus as spam. Screenshots showed that users were being told the articles violated the company's community guidelines. Journalist Steve Silberman said that he saw posts from news outlets such as The Atlantic and Politico being flagged as spam. 

Matt Navarra, a social media consultant, said that some publishers' Facebook pages were reporting "a massive drop in post reach" because of the error. 

Facebook and several other tech giants have come under intense scrutiny in recent years over the presence of misinformation on their platforms. The company announced in January that it would remove all false claims and conspiracy theories about the coronavirus, and it has moved to highlight links to bodies such as the World Health Organization and Centers for Disease Control and Prevention amid its spread.

The error arrived just a day after Facebook, Twitter, YouTube, Microsoft, LinkedIn and Reddit shared a statement vowing to work jointly to suppress fraud and misinformation about the virus. 

Chris Mills Rodrigo contributed.

Updated at 7:55 a.m.