Facebook’s Safety Check feature helped promote a fake news story about a Bangkok explosion

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Facebook founder and CEO Mark Zuckerberg speaks during the 2013 TechCrunch Disrupt conference on September 11, 2013 in San Francisco, California. The TechCrunch Disrupt Conference runs through September 11. Justin Sullivan/Getty Images

Once again, Facebook is under fire for its role in the spread of fake news reports.

This time, the social network helped publicise an incorrect news story claiming that Bangkok had been “rock[ed]” by an explosion, promoting the report using its Safety Check feature — a tool that allows users to publicly mark themselves safe in the event of a natural disaster or terrorist attack.

The tool, which has previously been used in the aftermath of the Paris terror attacks and the Nepalese earthquake, was activated on December 27, and labelled “The Explosion in Bangkok, Thailand.”

At the top of the links section, it promoted a news article about an explosion, according to a screenshot captured by Channel NewsAsia journalist Saksith Saiysasombut. But Quartz reports that the explosion the article referred to actually happened in 2015, and the article has since been deleted.

Facebook did not immediately respond to Business Insider’s request for comment, but it has told other media outlets that Safety Check was not activated in response to the fake news story. Instead, it says, it was activated due to a protester who threw firecrackers at a government building: “Safety Check was activated today in Thailand following an explosion. As with all Safety Check activations, Facebook relies on a trusted third party to first confirm the incident and then on the community to use the tool and share with friends and family.”

No-one was injured in the protest, according to a report from Bangkok Post. It’s not clear how many people saw the incorrect news story as a result of Facebook’s actions, and the social network did not immediately provide clarification.

Facebook has faced scrutiny in recent months over its role in the spread of fake and fraudulent news stories. The social network and its CEO, Mark Zuckerberg, were initially dismissive of allegations that fake news may have influenced people’s decisions in the US presidential election, but it now professes to take the issue more seriously. Facebook will now label and fact-check fake news with the help of third-party partners like Snopes, the site says.

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