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Fb forbids Holocaust denial given the speedy rise in "deceptive" content material

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Enlarge /. Facebook's Menlo Park, California headquarters from 2017.

Today, Facebook is again theoretically strengthening its enforcement against hate speech, this time with a new policy that forbids denial of the Holocaust on the platform.

The change is due to a "well-documented rise in anti-Semitism around the world," wrote Facebook manager Monika Bickert in a company blog post today.

The guideline is a full 180 for Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg, who in a 2018 interview explicitly described Holocaust denial as the kind of "deeply insulting" speech he nevertheless deemed permissible. The next day he "cleared" his position amid a setback:

Our goal with fake news is not to prevent someone from telling the truth, but rather to prevent fake news and misinformation from spreading through our services. If something spreads and is found wrong by fact checkers, it would lose most of its spread in the news feed. And if a post crosses the line to advocate violence or hatred against a certain group, it will of course be removed. These topics are very challenging, but I believe that the best way to tackle offensive bad language is often through good language.

Zuckerberg said in a Facebook post today that his own thinking has "evolved" in the face of increasing anti-Semitic violence in recent years. "It is not easy to draw the right line between what is acceptable and what is not," he added, "but given the current state of the world, I believe that this is the right balance."

The Holocaust denial ban is just the latest from a multitude of policy changes and suggestions that Facebook has made in the past two weeks specifically in connection with hate speech, misinformation, or "influence operations".

Why now after all this time?

Previous widely publicized efforts by Facebook to reduce hate speech and misinformation on the platform have not gone particularly well overall, and the world is still grappling with the impact of how quickly and widely misinformation can be spread thanks to social media. A new study published today finds that the problem is rapidly getting worse, not improving.

The digital project arm of the German Marshall Fund, a non-partisan think tank, released a report today that found that Facebook has not only not limited the spread of false claims on its platform, but has more than doubled the disinformation since 2016.

The study divides the number of interactions resulting from what the GMF calls "deceptive sites" into two broad categories. The first category includes websites that "repeatedly publish content that is proven to be incorrect" and are conveniently referred to as "producers of incorrect content". The second, larger group of Web sites, known as "manipulators", do not typically tell completely untrue stories, but "grossly falsify or misrepresent information in order to make an argument".

According to GMF, Facebook exposure to both types of misleading websites has increased 242 percent since that time in 2016, with the vast majority of that growth over the past year having occurred since Q3 2019. Interactions with totally wrong content have just doubled. However, interactions with "manipulator" pages have increased by nearly 300 percent.

<img alt = "A graphic created by the Digital New Deal project of the German Marshall Foundation shows a dramatic Increase in Facebook exposure to misleading websites since the 2016 US presidential election. "Src =" https://cdn.arstechnica.net/wp-content/uploads/2020/10/GMF_deception-640×487.jpg "width =" 640 " height = "487" srcset = "https://cdn.arstechnica.net/wp-content/uploads/2020/10/GMF_deception.jpg 2x”/>Enlarge /. A graphic created by the German Marshall Foundation's Digital New Deal project shows a dramatic increase in Facebook exposure to misleading websites since the 2016 US presidential election.

The study covers more than 720 locations under the "deceptive" umbrella, but GMF found that the top 10 locations alone account for a whopping 62 percent of all interactions they track, while the remaining 711 locations together make up the remaining 38 percent. All of the top 10 qualified as "manipulator" sites, including Breitbart and The Daily Wire. Although the top sites are all conservative, according to GMF, the study includes both left-wing and apolitically misleading sites.

The hugely popular Fox News, which received the most interactions of all websites included in the study, also qualified under the "Manipulator" label. The research team notes that Fox has made "irresponsible and misleading claims", particularly those related to COVID-19. At the same time, Fox rated the "Manipulator" category higher than other outlets because it follows journalistic practices such as correcting mistakes, avoiding misleading headlines, flagging advertisements, and disclosing property rights.

The misinformation disseminated through misleading websites is an integral part of what GMF calls the "disinformation supply chain" which, as we learned in 2016, can have a significant impact on the real world. Such articles are designed to press emotional hot buttons, and Facebook's algorithms then expand that content to more users and the cycle continues.

"Disinformation infects our democratic discourse with rates that threaten the long-term health of our democracy," said Karen Kornbluh, director of GMF Digital and project leader. "A handful of websites masquerading as news outlets are spreading even more inaccurate and manipulative information than they did around the 2016 election. These data underscore that the spread of content could increase or add friction to dangerous websites from a handful of most content drastically reduce disinformation online. "

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Steven Gregory