Fake news confuses Facebook into mixing up a real bombing with a fake one, triggering panic in Bangkok

Facebook attributed a real “bombing” to a fake one, triggering an unnecessary panic attack in Bangkok.

Facebook attributed a real “bombing” to a fake one, triggering an unnecessary panic attack in Bangkok.

On 27 December, Bangkok resident Chalerm Sornnonthee clambered atop a security office near Government House in Bangkok and started tossing “ping pong bombs” into the Government House compound.

His actions caused panic as people initially thought there was a bombing at Government House. Facebook’s algorithms picked up the initial chatter and triggered a Safety Check in the region, prompting users in the area to mark themselves as safe.

 

As Wired explains, Safety Check works by monitoring an emergency newswire that aggregates information from various accredited sources. Once it detects an “event”, it looks to see what Facebook users are saying in that region. Once satisfied, the algorithm will then trigger a safety check.

This is what happened in Bangkok, but something went wrong. Safety Check normally gives you links to reports on the situation. For some reason, Facebook picked up a fake news story on Bangkok Insider (the story has since been pulled and the site is now “under maintenance”) which stated that there was a bomb explosion at the popular Erawan Shrine in Bangkok.

Understandably, there was widespread panic, (as there have been bomb attacks at Erawan Shrine in 2015) and Facebook only realised its error almost 11 hours later, reports Quartz. The damage however, was done.

 

The actual “bombing” at Government House also turned out to be a less serious affair. Reportedly, Sornnonthee was tossing firecrackers into the compound in order to draw attention to a legal dispute that he needed settled. He did show a bomb while on top of the security office, but it turned out to be a fake one.

The fake news menace has been haunting Facebook for many months now, if not years, but came to a head only recently when it was revealed that US President-Elect Donald Trump might have come to power on the strength of fake news.

Mark Zuckerberg has gone on the defensive, insisting that Facebook is not a “traditional” media company and that it’s doing all it can to combat fake news.

To be fair to Facebook, when it works, its automated Safety Check feature is actually very good. As Quartz reports, Facebook enabled Safety Check at the time of the mass shooting in Orlando at least 11 minutes before authorities publicly announced the shootings.

Zuckerberg is right in insisting that Facebook is not a media company, but on that note, there’s still too much misinformation doing the rounds for Facebook to call its feeds a “News Feed”.

Sornnonthee has since stepped off the building and returned home after receiving assurances that the matter will be looked into.

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