Activists protest Facebook's 'failure' on disinformation with body bags outside DC office

Activists protest Facebook's 'failure' on disinformation with body bags outside DC office
© Real Facebook Oversight Board

Activists staged a protest with body bags labeled “disinfo kills” outside of Facebook’s Washington, D.C., office on Wednesday as part of a push to hold the social media giant accountable for amplifying false information about COVID-19.

The demonstration was organized by the group Real Facebook Oversight Board, which has been pressuring the social media giant to change its policies to crack down on the spread of disinformation.

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The same day as the demonstration, the advocacy group published a report including an analysis that found in the last three months a small group of five “known disinformation superspreaders” maintained the No. 1 post spot on Facebook 83.4 percent of the time. 

The report also includes data from the left-leaning watchdog group Media Matters that found despite the platform’s two-year suspension of former President TrumpDonald TrumpUN meeting with US, France canceled over scheduling issue Trump sues NYT, Mary Trump over story on tax history McConnell, Shelby offer government funding bill without debt ceiling MORE’s account, a PAC affiliated with Trump has continued to fundraise and make money for themselves — and for Facebook through ad revenue.

“[Facebook’s] failure to act is an active choice when people are dying amidst a global pandemic — all to maintain profit margins. It is deeply immoral and it should be criminal,” a spokesperson for the Real Facebook Oversight Board said in a statement. 

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The advocacy group released the report and staged the protest hours before Facebook is scheduled to release its second-quarter earnings report and hold a call with investors. 

The social media giant has faced increased pressure to weed out false posts about COVID-19 and vaccines after the surgeon general released an advisory calling the spread of health misinformation an “urgent threat,” prompting President BidenJoe BidenUN meeting with US, France canceled over scheduling issue Schumer moves to break GOP blockade on Biden's State picks GOP Rep. Cawthorn likens vaccine mandates to 'modern-day segregation' MORE to accuse Facebook of “killing people.”

The president later walked back his harsh rebuke, but urged the company to crack down on the spread of misinformation about the coronavirus and vaccines — especially as the administration struggles to get reluctant Americans vaccinated as the highly contagious delta variant spreads widely. 

In response to the protest and report, Facebook spokesperson Andy Stone noted a blog post the platform issued earlier this month after Biden’s remarks. The blog post highlighted the action Facebook has taken to connect users with authoritative information about the pandemic and vaccines. 

Stone also said in a statement that the platform permanently bans pages, groups and accounts that “repeatedly break our rules on COVID misinformation.” 

Stone more directly pushed back on the protest in a tweet, calling it part of “cheap stunts.” 

Facebook has been reluctant to share information about how many users viewed vaccine misinformation on its platform. Sen. Bob MenendezRobert (Bob) MenendezBiden, don't punish India Democrats reject hardball tactics against Senate parliamentarian  Biden threatens more sanctions on Ethiopia, Eritrea over Tigray conflict MORE (D-N.J.) ramped up pressure on the company to do so Tuesday, sending a letter to CEO Mark ZuckerbergMark Elliot ZuckerbergHillicon Valley — Presented by Xerox — Democrats press FTC to resolve data privacy 'crisis' House Oversight Democrat presses Facebook for 'failure' to protect users Hillicon Valley — Facebook 'too late' curbing climate falsities MORE requesting information on views and recommendations of anti-vaccine or vaccine-related misinformation. 

The Real Facebook Oversight Board report also argues the platform could be easily taking more stringent action to combat misinformation.

The group said that since its analysis found that more than 83 percent of No. 1 posts on Facebook came from five known disinformation super spreaders, it is “far easier to combat than Facebook admits.” 

“Disabling engagement for these users would result in a significant decrease in COVID disinformation on Facebook, yet the company has done almost nothing,” the report states. 

The group also urges Facebook to "uprank quality news sources" by reprioritizing them in the news algorithm, similarly to how the social media platform did for a brief period of time around the 2020 election. In that time, the majority of top posts came from CNN, NPR or The New York Times, according to the report.