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Carrot emoji became a secret code on the internet to camouflage anti-vaccine content

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  • Facebook groups use the carrot emoji to evade automatic moderation of anti-vaccine content.

The NCT has observed several groups, including one with hundreds of thousands of members, in which this orange emoji appears instead of the word “vaccine”.

Facebook algorithms tend to focus on words rather than images.

In these types of groups, unverified information is shared about people who have allegedly been harmed or have died from vaccines.

Eliminated and respawned

Once alerted Meta, Facebook’s parent company, those groups were removed.

“We have removed this group for violating our harmful misinformation policies and will review any other similar content in accordance with this policy. We continue to work closely with public health experts and the UK government to further tackle anti-vaccine misinformation. covid,” the company said in a statement.

Groups, however, have reappeared in our searches ever since.

One of them had been around for three years, but was renamed to focus on vaccine stories in August 2022 (previously it was dedicated to sharing “jokes, bets, and funny videos”).

The rules of the largest group of all state: “use keywords for everything.”

And they add: “Never use the words that begin with c, v or r”: covid, vaccine or booster.

It was created more than a year ago and has more than 250,000 members.

Marc Owen-Jones, a disinformation researcher and associate professor at Hamad Bin Khalifa University in Qatar, was invited to join.

“These were people telling stories of relatives who had died shortly after receiving the covid-19 vaccine,” he said.

“But instead of the words ‘covid-19’ or ‘vaccine’ they used carrot emojis.”

“I was a bit confused at first. And then I understood that they were used as a way to evade, or at least try to, Facebook’s fake news detection algorithms.”

Risk moderation

In 2021, data from the UK Statistics Office assessed a one in five million risk of dying from the covid vaccine, compared to 35,000 deaths from the disease in five million unvaccinated infected.

Tech giants use algorithms to scour their platforms for harmful content.

But these are primarily geared towards detecting words and text, said Hannah Rose Kirk in a blog for the Oxford Internet Institute.

Rose Kirk was part of a research team that created a tool called HatemojiCheck: a checklist to identify areas where artificial intelligence (AI) systems don’t handle emoji abuse well.

“Despite having an impressive understanding of how language works, AI language models have seen very little emoji,” she said.

“They are trained with countless books, articles, websites, and even the entirety of English Wikipedia, but these texts rarely include emojis.”

Hidden in plain sight

Emojis can have multiple meanings in addition to those officially declared by Unicode, the consortium that manages them.

The US Drug Enforcement Agency has issued a warning about how emojis can be used to talk about illegal drugs.

And social media platforms have already come under fire for failing to block or remove monkey and banana emojis when they are posted as racist expressions on the accounts of black soccer players.

“It’s a modern form of steganography – writing and hiding a message in plain sight but in such a way that unless you know where to look, you don’t see it,” said Professor Alan Woodward, a cybersecurity expert at the University of Surrey. .

“What all of this shows is the futility of trying to automate content moderation to prevent ‘harmful’ material from being shared,” he explained, as people “develop new resources with which to communicate.”

Facebook announced last year that it had removed more than 20 million pieces of content with misinformation about Covid-19 or the vaccine since the start of the pandemic.

He also claimed to have deleted content that claims that vaccines in general are more dangerous than the disease they protect against, or that they are toxic.

US President Joe Biden criticized the tech giants for not doing enough to address the spread of misinformation online about vaccines.

He said he hoped Facebook would do more to combat “outrageous misinformation” about coronavirus vaccines being spread on his platform.

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