Five anti-scam websites (Hoax-Slayer, That's Nonsense, The Bulldog Estate, Facecrooks, and facebookprivacyandsecurity) have been fighting against a very viral type of Facebook hoax that exploits pictures of sick babies. After getting the media attention they asked for in an open letter to news organizations, Facebook responded by taking down many of the offending images. The company's message to users, however, remained the same: keep reporting the scams and we'll get to them eventually. Today I've learned that Facebook has decided it needs to do more to fight these viral scams and hoaxes.
"In addition to Facebook's regular ongoing improvements to our automatic spam detection systems, we are looking specifically at these types of violations and how they can be more quickly and efficiently taken down," a Facebook spokesperson said in a statement. I asked for what this meant, exactly. "We are very aware of the baby charity scam issue and are looking at some technical solutions that will make their removal quicker and more comprehensive (i.e. catching more instances of the same or similar images)," the spokesperson replied.
This is a huge win for these anti-scam websites because it means that Facebook has finally conceded that its "Report This Photo" feature isn't working as well as it should be. The company is thus looking to improve its automatic system for detecting malicious activity on the social network by scanning for hoax images that are constantly being shared again and again.
"FB do sometimes speak a load of baloney," Craig Haley, who runs That's Nonsense, told me. "Are they really telling us they cannot detect when a certain offending image is uploaded to the site, but are able to implement a system that auto-tags your friends in photos based on facial detection algorithms...if you banned the mere 5-6 photos that are causing the problems you've almost knocked the entire problem on the head straight away."
It appears that Haley is soon going to get what he wished for. Facebook has finally realized that these scams and hoaxes are getting out of hand.
For the record, the type of hoax that started all this typically involves photographs of ill and/or disabled children in hospitals being shared virally across Facebook, often asking users to donate for the child's medical expenses and/or promising that sharing the photo will result in donations from Facebook itself. Both claims are of course false. The real victims are not, however, the users who are being tricked – it's the families of these children who learn photos of their sick relatives are being used to perpetuate the scams and hoaxes.
Facebook currently relies on reports from users to stop the sharing of such images. The five aforementioned websites encourage users to report popular instances of offending photos, but when it comes to viral content, Facebook just doesn't react quickly enough. The quintet says it is playing catch up: new instances of these images are being uploaded and shared faster than users can report them in order for Facebook to take them down. That's why the group wrote a letter pleading for media attention: the hope was that more publicity would not only educate users about the problem but it could possibly also pressure Facebook into being more proactive when it comes to removing the hoaxes.
Their strategy appears to be finally working as Facebook wants to improve its algorithms. In the meantime, users should keep using Facebook's "Report This Photo" feature to help the company and inform their friends that no company or organization will ever donate money based on the number of times something is Liked, shared, and/or commented on.
I will be keeping in touch with Facebook on this matter and will let you know if anything further develops.
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