Why this story matters:
Facebook's role in spreading false information has been discussed at length in a political context following the 2016 U.S. elections. The company says it's working on countering "fake news" and recently announced changes in its feed that it says will encourage more "meaningful interactions with friends and family".
But what happens when it's your friends and family that are spreading the lies? How do you counter false information started by someone who is neither a celebrity nor an "influencer," just a person whose false post happens to strike a cord of tens of thousands of people?
This kind of content reaches you because a gullible Facebook friend shared it, not because you have been targeted by a sinister propaganda machine.
This was the case with a warning that a type of prescribed drug carried a potentially deadly virus. The warning reached a staggering 37,907 (and counting) shares. An article debunking the false warning was shared 65 times.
On Facebook, the odds are clearly not in truth's favor.
What happened, exactly?
- On January 10th, a man named Nenad Milojković, wrote on his personal Facebook profile that Paracetamol P-500 tablets contain the lethal Machupo virus.
- According to his profile, Nenad is a truck-driver from Serbia who lives with his family in Germany.
- Neither Paracetamol P-500, nor the Machupo virus, are present in the Balkans. It's also virtually impossible for a virus to survive the production and shipment of any pill.
- Milojković's "urgent warning" was shared 24,000 times in just one day and continues to spread online.
- The origin of the "warning" was a tweet published almost a year ago that made rounds through Africa and Asia, where it had to be refuted by governments of several countries.
- Unlike the original post, an article that debunks it was republished by many Bosnian media, telling the public there's no reason to panic.