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Facebook Begin To Censor Controversial Health Cures and Misinformation

Facebook announced Tuesday that it has changed its algorithm to curb the circulation of “misleading health content,” following reports that the platform is riddled with phony cancer cures.

In a blog post, Facebook product manager Travis Yeh, said: “In order to help people get accurate health information and the support they need, it’s imperative that we minimize health content that is sensational or misleading. 

Facebook’s update does not explicitly mention what it is doing about groups dedicating to promoting “exaggerated or sensational health claims.” Most of the announcement focuses on down-ranking posts in the News Feed and predicts some pages will be affected.

The announcement comes after the social media company has been singled out for failing to stop the spread of damaging health messages, such as the Anti-vaxx conspiracy that urges parents not to vaccinate their children.

“For the first update, we consider if a post about health exaggerates or misleads — for example, making a sensational claim about a miracle cure,” wrote Facebook product manager Travis Yeh.

“For the second update, we consider if a post promotes a product or service based on a health-related claim — for example, promoting a medication or pill claiming to help you lose weight.”

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Google’s New Tattletale Extensions Arrives To Chrome Browser

Sometimes you just never want to see a certain site in your Google results. Maybe you want to block a sketchy news source, or you don’t want Pinterest in your image search results, or there’s a really gross forum that keeps appearing in searches. You can block a site from future searches with the uBlacklist Chrome extension.

Named the Suspicious Site Reporter, this extension adds an icon to the Google Chrome toolbar that when pressed, opens a popup window from where users can file an automatic report for the current site they’re on, and which they suspect might be up to no good.

Typically, Safe Browsing automatically crawls the web and looks for suspicious sites. With this new extension, you can flag sites that the system hasn’t detected yet. The overall process is pretty simple and the extension gives you the option to include screenshots, the referrer chain that led you to the site and the DOM content of your browser.

The extension is robust and feature-rich. When it blocks certain results, it includes a small notice at the top of the page, next to Google’s results count. Click “Show” to temporarily reveal the blocked results. This will also reveal a link to unblock the site. Image results appear instead as blanks, and can also be revealed with one click.

The deceptive URL warning will be automatically available in Chrome, but you’ll have to manually install the Suspicious Site Reporter Extension. You should be able to access both features starting today on Chrome for desktop, but Google hasn’t shared any details regarding mobile availability yet.

The changes are modest enhancements. But given that Google Chrome is the dominant web browser, accounting for 63% of web usage today according to analytics firm StatCounter, even small changes can affect a lot of activity on the internet.

New tool for online activism

These now tools might make it easier to flag websites you don’t like, but that feature could also be used in online activism. We’ve seen several examples of how a tweet, Instagram post or similar can impact a business in both positive and negative ways. So the question is whether this tool is also going to be used to boycut businesses and websites people just don’t like politically.

Even though Google says these new extensions will protect users, there is also the concern that it will act as censorship tool. When users flag websites, they are added to list of unsafe websites and if you’re featuring some controversial information, you could easily end up being censored.

What would happen if a huge part of the younger generation choose to collectively flag and block websites? We’ve already seen how the term fake news is being used to censor opinion, free speech and controversial information, so one have to wonder whether these tools will become the new way to fight “fake news” and controversial content or they will become the newest tool to suppress free speech.

It would be interesting to see what will happen if a large number of people were to flag and block the major mainstream news outlets.

Unfortunately, there are a few holes in the net. For example, if you block foxnews.com, uBlacklist will block Fox News as a source on news searches from the main Google page, but not on searches made at news.google.com. And blocking a site doesn’t also block that site’s social media pages from results (unless you add those to your blacklist too). But these are small flaws that shouldn’t ruin most uses of the extension.