Facebook’s war against one of the internet’s worst conspiracy sites
James Bareham for Vox/Recode
Facebook has banned this conspiracy site twice. But its content can still sneak back on.
It’s been a year since Facebook deleted the page for Natural News for violating the company’s rules about spam. This was a big deal for Natural News, a conspiracy site that had attracted nearly 3 million followers on its Facebook page. Then in May, Facebook took further action by banning the Natural News domain so that any link to the site would be blocked, along with some pages that frequently shared its content. Still, Natural News content has found ways to stick around.
As one of the internet’s oldest and most prolific sources of health misinformation and conspiracy theories, Natural News is a hub for climate change deniers and anti-vaxxers. While it poses as a news outlet, Natural News is actually a network of sites filled with bylined articles and flanked by ads for survivalist gear and dodgy health cures. The internet trust tool NewsGuard reports that Natural News “severely violates basic standards of credibility and transparency.” Various fact-checking organizations have repeatedly flagged Natural News content as false .
A new investigation from the Institute for Strategic Dialogue , a think tank that focuses on countering extremism, finds that there are hundreds of active and inactive domains that point to websites associated with Natural News. It’s through some of these domains that Natural News content can still end up being shared on Facebook, the researchers found. Facebook, meanwhile, has said that Natural News was banned “for spammy and abusive behavior, not the content they posted.” Most recently, Facebook said its pages had used abusive audience-building tactics, including posting frequently and trying to evade the company’s rate limits.
That hasn’t stopped Natural News from crying censorship and urging readers to appeal to Facebook and even the federal government over the bans. Meanwhile, researchers at the Institute for Strategic Dialogue say that it flagged several pages and groups that have frequently shared Natural News content to Facebook, but those pages and groups remain up.
Some Facebook users have realized that Natural News content is still accessible on another domains.
The persistence of misinformation is not so surprising. The 2016 presidential campaign highlighted the extent to which fake news, extremist content, and conspiracy theories pervaded Facebook. Since then, the company has ramped up its fight against the most prominent sources of false information when it removes their pages and content. But it’s typical for Facebook to ban these sources for specific policy violations, not the spreading of misinformation.
That a network like Natural News can continue to spread misinformation on Facebook shouldn’t be surprising. Years after learning about the dangers and...