A public Facebook group with over 3,000 members calling for lockdown rules to be broken with the 'spontaneous reopening of businesses' on Saturday has been labelled a dangerous 'rabbit hole of misinformation'.
Fine Gael Senator John McGahon has spoken out about misinformation related to the Covid-19 pandemic, and he feels social media companies, particularly Facebook, need to do more to address the issue.
Mr McGahon told BreakingNews.ie: “When you look through some of the comments on it, it has anything from people questioning the validity of vaccines, to questioning the effectiveness of masks, to claiming that Covid doesn't even exist.
“The point I'm trying to highlight with this is dangerous algorithms used by Facebook, you might be attracted to something that's somewhat innocuous, but being in a group like that takes people down a rabbit hole with these algorithms, directing people to other groups dedicated to questioning vaccines or claiming Covid doesn't exist. It's a rabbit hole of conspiracy theories and misinformation and people can start by looking at something they think is innocent before being led to these sinister groups.”
Mr McGahon said he looked through the threads and not many of the comments appeared to be from genuine business owners. However, he said the real danger with these types of groups is people undermining public health guidelines.
Undermining public health guidelines
“I had an in-depth look and the daft thing is I didn't see any real legitimate business owners saying 'yeah, I'm going to reopen', the point is it's people who are trying to muddy the waters in terms of public health information and advice. They're trying to undermine the public health message and that's the real danger of it.”
Mr McGahon said reform is needed to force the likes of Twitter and Facebook to be considered as publishers rather than simply platforms.
Section 230 of the US Communications Decency Act, which was passed in 1996, says an “interactive computer service” can’t be treated as the publisher or speaker of third-party content.
This is what American-based social media companies work off at the moment.
“The problem with lots of big tech companies, specifically Facebook, is that misinformation is allowed to thrive and spread online like wildfire.
“My issue is, they'll tell you 'oh, we're employing content moderators to take things down', it's not enough. What needs to happen is Facebook and other social media companies need to be treated as publishers and not platforms.
“The problem goes back to section 2.30 of the US Communications Decency Act that allows internet companies to be treated like a platform and not responsible for what's posted on them.
“If we start treating them like publishers, Facebook and Twitter will be forced to monitor and moderate it much more closely than they are now.
“Joe Biden's administration has indicated they will revoke this article and the EU has already started proceedings for a reform of social media practice, which will be important for us.”
Mr McGahon cited the ban on former US President Donald Trump as an example of how Facebook and Twitter have started acting like publishers, adding that they must now follow through on this.
“We have seen them acting as publishers with the recent decision, however late it was, to ban Donald Trump. I only think they acted with Trump because it was the dying days of his presidency, and he incited a riot at the US Capitol.
“They were more than happy to take millions from him for advertising. Banning him was the right decision but it was far too little, too late.
“Through the banning of Trump they are acting like an editor would with a mainstream publication, and they now need to be treated as publishers.”