80% of posts featuring articles that push baseless, misleading or misrepresented claims about the alleged existence of US-funded bioweapons labs in Ukraine were not labelled by Facebook.
New analysis by the Center for Countering Digital Hate finds that Facebook is failing to label 80% of posts featuring articles that push baseless, misleading or misrepresented claims about the alleged existence of US-funded bioweapons labs in Ukraine – a narrative heavily promoted by the Russian state and its media outlets.
Last week, the US government accused Moscow of manufacturing a false narrative around alleged US-funded bioweapons labs to justify a possible use of chemical weapons in Ukraine. In the US, several right-wing pundits and outlets have misrepresented statements by American government officials on the issue and amplified the baseless Russian narrative online. The bioweapons labs myth has evolved into one of the most prominent misinformation campaigns surrounding the ongoing war in Ukraine and received significant amplification on social media platforms.
In reality, the US Department of Defense has provided funding for research laboratories in Ukraine since 2005 through its Biological Threat Reduction Program, which helps secure laboratories in several countries against the threat of intentional or accidental dangerous pathogen outbreaks.
To assess Facebook’s use of fact-checking labels on posts featuring articles that contained false claims about bioweapons labs, misrepresented statements made by US officials, or made misleading claims about existing Ukrainian biological laboratories, CCDH researchers used the social analytics tool NewsWhip to assess over 120 articles.
Using Meta’s own CrowdTangle analytics tool, researchers then identified the top public Facebook post for each article in the sample, recording whether or not it was labelled and how many interactions it had received from Facebook users.
They found that 80% of the most popular posts associated with articles in the sample carried no warning labels, while 20% did, including 11 “missing context” labels, 4 “partly false information” labels and 9 “false information” labels. Articles in the sample had received over 150,000 likes, comments and shares on Facebook and all were published between 24 February and 14 March 2022.
Facebook currently applies three different types of fact-checking labels to articles in the sample.
- A “missing context” label for articles deemed by independent fact-checkers to contain information that could “mislead people.”
- A “partly false information” label for articles deemed by independent fact-checkers to contain information that has “some factual inaccuracies”.
- A “false information” label for articles deemed by independent fact-checkers to contain information that has “no basis in fact”.
The Center of Countering Digital Hate is calling on Meta to expand the use of its existing “missing context” label to all articles pushing misleading or misrepresented claims surrounding this topic as well as articles pushing Russian state narratives without context. CCDH also calls on Meta to thoroughly enforce its “false information” and “partly false information” labels and the related fact-checks to counter the amplification of this content on its platforms.