Facebook tweaks platform to ‘relegate’ misleading nutrition claims

By Will Chu

- Last updated on GMT

Facebook is to address misleading nutrition, health and fitness claims that have blighted its platform after accusations the company is a source of fake news and “inaccurate articles”.

The social networking platform said the two ranking updates it made last month reduced posts with exaggerated or sensational health claims and those selling products or services based on health-related claims.

“We handled this in a similar way to how we’ve previously reduced low-quality content like clickbait,”​ said Travis Yeh, Facebook’s product manager.

“We’ve identified phrases that were commonly used in these posts to predict which posts might include sensational health claims or promotion of products with health-related claims, and then showing these lower in News Feed.”

Facebook’s actions come as researchers at Health Feedback and the Credibility Coalition found Facebook to be the largest source of inaccurate articles, with the social media site accounting for 96% of the shares of the top 100 articles.

The pervasiveness of such news caused Dr Mary Flynn, chief specialist in Public Health Nutrition at the Food Safety Authority of Ireland (FSAI) to warn consumers about fake nutrition news back in March.

Two Facebook updates

Yeh revealed further details as to how the platform would assess news articles explaining that for the first update, “we consider if a post about health exaggerates or misleads — for example, making a sensational claim about a miracle cure”.

“For the second update, we consider if a post promotes a product or service based on a health-related claim — for example, promoting a medication or pill claiming to help you lose weight,”​ he adds.

He anticipated that most pages wouldn’t see any significant changes to their distribution in News Feed as a result of this update.

“Posts with sensational health claims or solicitation using health-related claims will have reduced distribution,”​ he said.

“Pages should avoid posts about health that exaggerate or mislead people and posts that try to sell products using health-related claims. If a Page stops posting this content, their posts will no longer be affected by this change.”

“We’ll continue working to minimise low-quality health content on Facebook.”

The spread of fake news

The rise in fake news and nutrition claims coincide with the rising  popularity of social media platforms and increasing numbers of consumers adopting a more fit and healthy lifestyle.

Sports nutrition is particularly susceptible with exaggerated claims and health benefits made by firms looking for cost-effective ways of targeting a younger demographic with their products.

With social media algorithms rewarding engagement, a study in Science​ found fake news spreads faster, deeper, and more broadly than the truth in all information categories.

In August last year, Facebook took steps to address the situation by deleting a large number of pages discussing fringe or holistic medicine.

The Global Media Movement reported​that a number of pages had been removed that included ‘Organic Health’ (230K followers, deleted on June 13th, 2018), ‘Natural Cures From Food’ (120K followers, deleted on June 13th, 2018), and ‘Nutrition Facts and Analysis’ (170K followers, deleted on June 13th, 2018).

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