The big picture: Facebook’s platform is home to some 2.3 billion monthly users, more than half of which are active every day according to the company. In an effort to curb the flood of sensationalism and scientifically dubious information about various health topics, it’s been tweaking the News Feed algorithm -- a move that is similar to previous adjustments that downgraded low-quality content, raising questions about its efficacy.
The company recently detailed its latest steps to clean up its platform of potentially harmful and misleading information, which tends to spread until it overruns our News Feeds.
It’s worth noting that Facebook isn’t taking down such content, but merely minimizing its reach. In two updates that took place over the last month, the company has been tweaking its algorithm to recognize exaggerated claims such as miracle cures, and downgrade posts that promote the sale of medical products that are of dubious value.
It may sound okay on paper, but there are at least two problems with this approach. The tweaks are focused around Pages, and they’ll only apply for as long as they post misleading health information, with no mention of banning or removing anything. And Facebook’s Travis Yeh says the company predicts “most Pages won’t see any significant changes to their distribution in News Feed as a result of this update.”
The changes also don’t seem to account for individuals reposting such information on their own timelines. And with Facebook’s latest redesign focusing on Groups, the News Feed tweaks seem even less effective – as soon as people adapt, it will just become a game of whack-a-mole.
Facebook’s timing is definitely interesting, with a recent Wall Street Journal investigation shining some light into how other platforms such as Amazon and YouTube are overrun with misinformation, to the point where it’s becoming harder to discern between proven treatments and scams.