A “massive ranking failure” in the Facebook News Feed promoted content it pegged as bad for the past six months. The flaw in the News Feed’s ranking algorithm elevated misinformation, violence, and the Russian state media outlets Facebook pledged to downrank in response to President Vladimir Putin’s invasion of Ukraine to more than a billion people worldwide.
The warping of the News Feed’s brain stem reversed the effects of its content moderation systems in a comical and obvious way it seems like a joke Saturday Night Live would make about Facebook. Posts identified by fact checkers or Facebook’s artificial intelligence for downranking — appearing further from the top of the feed — would instead receive a boost to their visibility. Facebook’s systems juiced these “integrity risks” by as much as 30 percent worldwide, the company’s engineers said in an internal dossier first reported by The Verge. In all, the bug affected as many as half of all News Feed users, the report said.
Facebook said in a statement to The Verge, “Meta detected inconsistencies in downranking on five separate occasions, which correlated with small, temporary increases to internal metrics… We traced the root cause to a software bug and applied needed fixes.” Facebook said it “has not had any meaningful, long-term impact on our metrics.” The company did not immediately respond to Gizmodo’s request for comment.
The technical issue with the News Feed reportedly dates back to 2019 but began causing problems in late 2021. The company’s engineers, touted as some of the best in the world, knew of the problem in October of last year but couldn’t find its cause or fix it until March 11th. The engineers christened their six-month-old algorithmic baby with Facebook’s most dire and dorky designation, a “Severe Engineering Vulnerability.”
The News Feed is Facebook’s flagship product, the collection of posts every user sees first when they go to Facebook.com or open the Facebook app. With nearly three billion monthly active users, it stands to reason that the flaw in the News Feed exposed more than a billion people to content Facebook intended for them not to see.