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Far-Right Misinformation Is Thriving On Facebook. A New Study Shows Just How Much

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Facebook has promised repeatedly in recent years to address the spread of conspiracy theories and misinformation on its site.

Ben Margot/AP


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Ben Margot/AP

Facebook has promised repeatedly in recent years to address the spread of conspiracy theories and misinformation on its site.

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Ben Margot/AP

By the time a pro-Trump mob stormed the U.S. Capitol on Jan. 6, fueled by far-right conspiracies and lies about a stolen election, a group of researchers at New York University had been compiling Facebook engagement data for months.

The NYU-based group, Cybersecurity For Democracy, was studying online misinformation — wanting to know how different types of news sources engaged with their audiences on Facebook. After the events of Jan. 6, researcher Laura Edelson expected to see a spike in Facebook users engaging with the day’s news, similar to Election Day.

Twitter's 'Birdwatch' Aims to Crowdsource Fight Against Misinformation

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But Edelson, who helped lead the research, said her team noticed a troubling phenomenon.

“The thing was, most of that spike was concentrated among the partisan extremes and misinformation providers,” Edelson told NPR’s All Things Considered. “And when I really sit back and think about that, I think the idea that on a day like that, which was so scary and so uncertain, that the most extreme and least reputable sources were the ones Facebook users were engaging with, is pretty troubling.”

But it wasn’t just one day of high engagement. A new study from Cybersecurity For Democracy found that far-right accounts known for spreading misinformation are not only thriving on Facebook, they’re actually more successful than other kinds of accounts at getting likes, shares and other forms of user engagement.

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It wasn’t a small edge, either.

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Facebook Oversight Board Co-Chair On Determining The Future Of Trump's Accounts

“It’s almost twice as much engagement per follower among the sources that have a reputation for spreading misinformation,” Edelson said. “So, clearly, that portion of the news ecosystem is behaving very differently.”

The research team used CrowdTangle, a Facebook-owned tool that measures engagement, to analyze more than 8 million posts from almost 3,000 news and information sources over a five-month period. Those sources were placed in one of five categories for partisanship — Far Right, Slightly Right, Center, Slightly Left, Far Left — using evaluations from Media Bias/Fact Check and NewsGuard.

Each source was then evaluated on whether it had a history of spreading misinformation or conspiracy theories. What Edelson and her colleagues discovered is what some Facebook critics — and at least one anonymous executive — have been saying for some time: that far-right content is just more engaging. In fact, the study found that among far-right sources, those known for spreading misinformation significantly outperformed non-misinformation sources.

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Researchers with Cybersecurity For Democracy found that far-right misinformation drives more engagement per follower than any other partisan leaning.

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In all other partisan categories, though, “the sources that have a reputation for spreading misinformation just don’t engage as well,” Edelson said. “There could be a variety of reasons for that, but certainly the simplest explanation would be that users don’t find them as credible and don’t want to engage with them.”

The researchers called this phenomenon the “misinformation penalty.”

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Facebook has repeatedly promised to address the spread of conspiracies and misinformation on its site. In a statement this week, the company noted that engagement is not the same as how many people actually see a piece of content. “When you look at the content that gets the most reach across Facebook, it’s not at all as partisan as this study suggests,” the company said.

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'More Dangerous And More Widespread': Conspiracy Theories Spread Faster Than Ever

In response, Edelson called on Facebook to be transparent with how it tracks impressions and promotes content: “They can’t say their data leads to a different conclusion but then not make that data public.”

“I think what’s very clear is that Facebook has a misinformation problem,” she said. “I think any system that attempts to promote the most engaging content, from what we call tell, will wind up promoting misinformation.”

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Editor’s note: Facebook is among NPR’s financial supporters.

Will Jarvis and William Troop produced and edited the audio version of this story.

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Facebook-Meta Earns the ‘Worst Company of 2021’ Title in This Survey

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Facebook has had its share of controversies this year. The company was under more scrutiny after whistleblower Frances Haugen leaked a series of internal documents.

Facebook parent Meta has been named the Worst Company of the Year (2021) by Yahoo Finance respondents. According to the publication, an “open-ended” survey was published on Yahoo Finance on December 4 and 5, where 1,541 respondents participated. Facebook received 8 percent of the write-in vote, but respondents were seemingly mad about the Robinhood trading app as well. Electric truck startup Nikola, which was named last year’s worst company by the same publication also faced respondents ire.

Yahoo Finance notes, “Facebook has had its share of controversies this year.” Starting in January, Meta-owned WhatsApp got caught up in a huge controversy after the messaging app announced a new privacy policy (Terms of Service). WhatsApp said it would collect user information and share it with third-party apps for a better user experience. However, the app gave users no choice but later made modifications to the policy under pressure. Similarly, the company was under more scrutiny after whistleblower and former Facebook employee Frances Haugen leaked a series of internal documents showing the company’s problematic practices. It was revealed that Meta-owned Instagram had a negative impact on teenage girls, but the company did almost nothing to rectify the problem.

Yahoo Finance even highlights, “At the same time, some critics, including conservatives, say Facebook over-policed the platform’s speech and stifled their voices.” Critics also blame Facebook and other social media platforms for not curbing hate speech that led to Capitol Building riots.

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However, around 30 percent of Yahoo Finance readers said that Facebook or Meta could redeem itself. One respondent suggested that the company could issue a formal apology for negligence and donate a sizable amount of its profits to a foundation to help reverse its harm.

On the other hand, respondents chose Microsoft as the Company of the Year (2021). The Satya Nadella-led company touched the trillion-mark this year and introduced notable upgrades. The most notable is the Windows 11 OS update that succeeds Windows 10.

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Facebook pays 1.7 Cr fine to Russia after failing to delete content Moscow deems illegal

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In the latest legal tussle with Russia over controversial social media regulation laws, Facebook paid 17 million roubles (Rs 1.7 Crore) for failing to remove content deemed illegal by Moscow. With a threat of potential larger fines looming, Facebook parent company Meta, owned by Mark Zuckerberg, is scheduled to face court next week over repeated violations of Russian legislation on content, Interfax News Agency reported. As per the latest updates, the social media giant could be fined a percentage of its annual revenue.

In October, Moscow sent state bailiffs to enforce the collection of 17 million roubles. Meanwhile, as per Interfax report citing a federal bailiffs’ database, on Sunday, there were more enforcement proceedings against the company. Apart from the popular social media app, Telegram has also paid 15 million roubles in fines for failing to comply with the Russian social media legislations that came into force in 2016.

Facebook pays $53k to Russia for refusing controversial social media laws

It is pertinent to mention that Facebook has locked horns with Moscow earlier in November, resulting in it paying 4 million roubles ($53,000) over its refusal to adhere to Russian data localisation laws, the Moscow Times reported. The Moscow court on November 25 had said that Facebook paid the fine levied in February, following which all proceedings against the US-based social media giant. The payment comes against the litigation filed against the company in 2018, alongside Twitter. The tech companies were also forced to pay an additional 3000 rubles ($40) for failing to comply with user data sharing rules as per the law. The Russian authorities have also previously blocked LinkedIn, owned by Microsoft, for failing to abide by the laws.

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Russian social media laws

As per Moscow Times, under the Russian social media regulation laws, all foreign technology companies are required to store data related to Russian customers and users on servers located in Russia. Additionally, the Russian tech companies will also have to share encryption data with the federal authorities as well as record user calls, messages and civil society group conversation records. The apparatus is said to be a severe breach of privacy rights and unfettered back-door access to personal data that could be used to harass Kremlin critics.

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Facebook Messenger Is Launching a Split Payments Feature for Users to Quickly Share Expenses

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Facebook Messenger Is Launching a Split Payments Feature for Users to Quickly Share Expenses

Meta has announced the arrival of a new Split Payments feature in Facebook Messenger. This feature, as the name suggests, will let you calculate and split expenses with others right from Facebook Messenger. This feature essentially looks to bring an easier method to share the cost of bills and expenses — for example, splitting a dinner bill with friends. Using this new Split Payment feature, Facebook Messenger users will be able to split bills evenly or modify the contribution for each individual, including their own.

The company took to its blog post to announce the new Split Payment feature in Facebook Messenger. 9to5Mac reports that this new bill splitting feature is still in beta and will be exclusive to US users at first. The rollout will begin early next week. As mentioned, it will help users share the cost of bills, expenses, and payments. This feature is especially useful for those who share an apartment and need to split the monthly rent and other expenses with their mates. It could also come handy at a group dinner with many people.

With Split Payments, users can add the number of people the expense needs to be divided with and, by default, the amount entered will be divided in equal parts. A user can also modify each person’s contribution including their own. To use Split Payments, click the Get Started button in a group chat or the Payments Hub in Messenger. Users can modify the contribution in the Split Payments option and send a notification to all the users who need to make payments. After entering a personalised message and confirming your Facebook Pay details, the request will be sent and viewable in the group chat thread.

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Once someone has made the payment, you can mark their transaction as ‘completed’. The Split Payment feature will automatically take into account your share as well and calculate the amount owed accordingly.


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Tasneem Akolawala is a Senior Reporter for Gadgets 360. Her reporting expertise encompasses smartphones, wearables, apps, social media, and the overall tech industry. She reports out of Mumbai, and also writes about the ups and downs in the Indian telecom sector. Tasneem can be reached on Twitter at @MuteRiot, and leads, tips, and releases can be sent to tasneema@ndtv.com.

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