Facebook admits it made an ‘error’ after algorithm threatens to ban users who post content showing people how to make their own masks
- Facebook says an ‘error’ in its algorithm banned innocent content on masks
- Groups have reported being threatened with a ban and having posts removed
- The algorithm was designed to prevent users from profiting off of coronavirus
An algorithm designed to help weed out misinformation about coronavirus has been inadvertently hampering some Facebook users from disseminating content on homemade medical masks.
According to a report from the New York Times, Facebook says that an ‘error’ with its algorithm has been blocking content on how to make hand-sewn masks and threatening to ban the users who post it, including groups in Pennsylvania, Illinois, and California.
Some of those groups, including one called Sew Face Masks Philadelphia, had thousands of followers and had its moderators threatened with a ban if content on masks continued.
A self-described ‘error’ in Facebook’s moderation algorithm has been banning content relating to protective masks from appearing on its platform according to a new report. Pictured: Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg
‘The automated systems we set up to prevent the sale of medical masks needed by health workers have inadvertently blocked some efforts to donate supplies,’ Facebook said in a statement to the New York Times.
‘We apologize for this error and are working to update our systems to avoid mistakes like this going forward. We don’t want to put obstacles in the way of people doing a good thing.’
The so-called error comes as Facebook ramps up efforts to prevent users from profiting off of a protective and sanitizing products sold on the site, in particular medical masks, gloves, and hand sanitizer.
On Facebook and other major platforms like Amazon, some sellers have used the ongoing coronavirus pandemic in their efforts to price-gouge items, selling them for multiples beyond their average price.
According to moderators of some of the groups interviewed by the New York Times, mixed messaging on masks may have contributed to Facebook’s aggressive policy in removing content pertaining to DIY masks and other equipment.
A new guidance from the CDC says that all Americans should be wearing masks when they enter public (stock)
The Centers for Disease Control (CDC) just recently reversed its stance on wearing masks after telling the US public not to buy personal protective gear.
A new advisory last week not recommends that people across the country wear masks when they go into public.
‘We support Facebook in their efforts in removing unethical sales” from their platform,’ Nicole Jochym, a student at Cooper Medical School of Rowan who was affected by the ban told the New York Times.
‘But we are hoping that they can update their procedures to protect community organizations such as ours.’
DO FACE MASKS MAKE A DIFFERENCE AND WHAT SHOULD YOU WEAR IF YOU CAN’T GET ONE?
Americans are increasingly being spotted wearing face masks in public amid the coronavirus pandemic, as are people are around the globe.
Soon, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) may advise all Americans to cover their faces when they leave the house, the Washington Post reported.
The agency is weighing that recommendation after initially telling Americans that they didn’t need to wear masks and that anything other than a high-grade N95 medical mask would do little to prevent infection any way.
FACE MASKS DO HELP PREVENT INFECTION – BUT THEY’RE NOT ALL CREATED EQUAL
Research on how well various types of masks and face coverings varies but, recently, and in light of the pandemic of COVID-19, experts are increasingly leaning toward the notion that something is better than nothing.
A University of Oxford study published on March 30 concluded that surgical masks are just as effective at preventing respiratory infections as N95 masks for doctors, nurses and other health care workers.
It’s too early for their to be reliable data on how well they prevent infection with COVID-19, but the study found the thinner, cheaper masks do work in flu outbreaks.
The difference between surgical or face masks and N95 masks lies in the size of particles that can – and more importantly, can’t – get though the materials.
N95 respirators are made of thick, tightly woven and molded material that fits tightly over the face and can stop 95 percent of all airborne particles, while surgical masks are thinner, fit more loosely, and more porous.
This makes surgical masks much more comfortable to breathe and work in, but less effective at stopping small particles from entering your mouth and nose.
Droplets of saliva and mucous from coughs and sneezes are very small, and viral particles themselves are particularly tiny – in fact, they’re about 20-times smaller than bacteria.
For this reason, a JAMA study published this month still contended that people without symptoms should not wear surgical masks, because there is not proof the gear will protect them from infection – although they may keep people who are coughing and sneezing from infecting others.
But the Oxford analysis of past studies – which has not yet been peer reviewed – found that surgical masks were worth wearing and didn’t provide statistically less protection than N95 for health care workers around flu patients.
However, any face mask is only as good as other health and hygiene practices. Experts universally agree that there’s simply no replacement for thorough, frequent hand-washing for preventing disease transmission.
Some think the masks may also help to ‘train’ people not to touch their faces, while others argue that the unfamiliar garment will just make people do it more, actually raising infection risks.
If the CDC does instruct Americans to wear masks, it could create a second issue: Hospitals already face shortages of masks and other PPE.
WHAT TO USE TO COVER YOUR FACE IF YOU DON’T HAVE A MASK
So the agency may recommend regular citizens use alternatives like cloth masks or bandanas.
‘Homemade masks theoretically could offer some protection if the materials and fit were optimized, but this is uncertain,’ Dr Jeffrey Duchin, a Seattle health official told the Washington Post.
A 2013 study found that next to a surgical mask, a vacuum cleaner bag provided the best material for a homemade mask.
After a vacuum bag, kitchen towels were fairly protective, but uncomfortable. Masks made of T-shirts were very tolerable, but only worked a third as well as surgical mask. The Cambridge University researchers concluded that homemade masks should only be used ‘as a last resort.’
But as the pandemic has spread to more than 164,000 people worldwide, it might be time to consider last resort options.
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