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Threads Blocks Search Results for COVID

Threads Blocks Search Results for COVID

Sarah Hardacre
Threads deployed a new search feature on September 7, but it was quickly reported that it chose to block certain keyword searches, including “COVID.” Users are instead met with a blank screen and pop-up with a link to the website of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

Meta has acknowledged that it intentionally blocked certain keyword searches but has not provided a list of which words are blocked.

“The search functionality temporarily doesn’t provide results for keywords that may show potentially sensitive content,” a Meta spokesperson told The Washington Post. Meta will only allow those search terms “once [Meta] is confident in the quality of the results.”

Hany Farid, a professor at the University of California at Berkeley who specializes in technology and disinformation, says that the move shows that Meta is concerned about false or misleading information. Lucky Tran, director of science communication at Columbia University, criticized the move. “Censoring searches for covid and long covid will only leave an information gap that will be filled by misinformation from elsewhere.”

This controversy comes as COVID cases have been steadily increasing since July and hospitalizations in the US have jumped 16%.

The blocked search results don’t really show Threads’ ability or willingness to deal with misinformation at scale on its platform. “Blocking certain words from search outright is also ultimately ineffective, because users will quickly develop euphemisms and turns of phrase to get around them,” Farid says.

Meta faced criticism over the spread of misinformation in the beginning of the pandemic. In particular, its Facebook top search results included conspiracy theory-driven anti-vaccination accounts when searching words such as “vaccine” and “5g.”

Built by Meta’s Instagram team, Threads was first released on July 5 as a text sharing app. It surpassed 100 million users in the first five days. Since then, Meta has announced a number of improvements, including a web version of the social media platform, the ability to share Threads on Instagram, and a new “mention” button.

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