Facebook removed 110,000 pieces of COVID-19 misinformation posted by Australian pages or accounts in the first year of the pandemic, with 14 billion posts removed around the world from March to December last year.
The data was provided by the tech giant as part of its obligations under the voluntary Australian Code of Practice for Disinformation and Misinformation, developed by social media firms after being directed to do so by the federal government in late 2019.
As part of the code, signatories have to produce annual transparency reports on actions they have undertaken to combat disinformation and misinformation on their platforms.
The reports from the likes of Facebook, Twitter, Google, TikTok and Australian firm Redbubble show a significant increase in misinformation relating to COVID-19 and vaccines, with efforts to block this including removing the content entirely or labelling it with fact checks.
Facebook’s transparency report revealed that from March to the end of December 2020 the company removed 14 billion pieces of content constituting misinformation relating ot COVID-19 around the world, including fake preventative measures and exaggerated cures.
Of this, 110,000 posts were removed in Australia for these reasons, while 6.2 million Australian users have visited Facebook’s COVID-19 Information Centre. Globally, 2 billion people have visited this info centre on Facebook.
Much of the focus on misinformation surrounding COVID-19 has now shifted to anti-vaccination disinformation, with Facebook moving in December to remove posts including false claims about COVID-19 vaccines and vaccinations in general.
Facebook signed onto the voluntary code at the same time it had briefly moved to ban all news content for Australian users in response to the news media bargaining code legislation.
Twitter’s own transparency report revealed that 1 million accounts were suspended in the first year of the pandemic, with 4.5 million posts removed for violating the company’s rules.
From July to December 2020, more than 7000 Australian-based accounts were suspended, with 47,000 tweets removed in total.
Less than 10 Australian accounts were suspended due to violations of the social media platform’s COVID-19 rules, with “more than 50” posts by Australians taken down by Twitter.
In the last three months alone, Twitter has labelled tweets from 25,000 accounts around the world for misinformation.
Google’s report under the code focused on the advertising side of its business. Last year, the search engine giant blocked and removed 3.1 billion “bad ads”, equating to nearly 6000 advertisements per minute.
In March this year, Google blocked more than 100,000 ads from Australian companies and individuals for violating its “misrepresentation” ads policy.
Online marketplace Redbubble – the only Australian company to have signed onto the misinformation code so far – revealed an “increased upward trend” in content uploaded to its platform relating to anti-vaccination sentiments recently.
This spiked significantly midway through last, with sales on the platform for this content surpassing $15,000 monthly.
In its report, Redbubble said the vast majority of this content has been removed, with 81 works in total taken down due to misinformation. About 65 of these posts were relating to anti-vaccination trends.
Redbubble is currently working on improving its analytics around misinformation on its platform, and is using third party fraud detection software “Sift Science” to automatically block “risky” users.
From October 2020 to March this year, social media giant TikTok removed 651 videos posted by Australian users due to COVID-19 misinformation, including 149 videos in January.
There have been significantly more reported videos including medical misinformation on TikTok recently, with 61 reported in February and 60 in March.
The misinformation code has previously been criticised by the Centre for Responsible Technology for being “inadequate” self-regulation that risks becoming a “digital fig leaf”, with the organisation saying it gives too much discretion to the big tech firms.