Anti-vaxxers use emojis to avoid detection by social media algorithms, a BBC study found.
A major Facebook group used the carrot emoji to replace the word vaccine, according to the BBC.
The shot glass emoji was also used to replace the word “shot” and discredit vaccines.
Groups sharing baseless claims that people are being injured or killed by vaccines are avoiding social media bans on anti-vaxx content by using the carrot emoji, a BBC study finds.
According to the BBC, several social media groups used the emoji as code for the word “vaccine.” The simple ruse allowed them to continue unimpeded posting content that the networks had promised to eradicate.
A Facebook group using the code, which the BBC did not mention, had more than 250,000 members.
The group’s rules read: “Use code words for everything” and “Never use the c-word, v-word, or b-word ever,” which the BBC says means “COVID,” “vaccine,” or “booster.”
The trend was also noted by Marc Owen Jones, an assistant professor of Middle Eastern Studies at Hamad bin Khalifa University, Qatar, who studies disinformation. The BBC said Jones was invited to the large Facebook group.
He said in a Twitter thread on Sunday: the carrot emoji symbol was used to replace the word vaccine “presumably to get around censorship. Very strange.”
According to a screen grab shared by Jones in a tweetThe group’s administrator stated that they would remove all unencrypted messages and that “encryption is important and carrots are not being picked up by AI censorship to date.”
Another image shared by Jones showed the shot glass emoji used to replace the word “shot,” though he didn’t specify where the image was taken.
The BBC flagged the group that used the emojis as code for Facebook’s parent company Meta, which removed them.
“We have removed this group for violating our harmful disinformation policy and will review all other similar content in accordance with this policy. We will continue to work closely with public health experts and the UK government to address disinformation about the vaccine against Covid to tackle further,” said Meta in a response to the message. statement to the BBC.
Some groups appeared a while after they were removed, according to the BBC.
An earlier Politifact report found other tactics used to thwart automated moderation, such as using deliberate misspellings such as writing “Seedy Sea” and “Eff Dee Aye” instead of CDC and FDA.
The BBC also found examples of posts using the unicorn emoji or the V-shaped symbol for the astrological signs Aries as a replacement for the word “vaccine.”
Other examples of emoji-based encoding include using it to get away with posting racist abuse.
Emojis are harder for algorithms to understand because they’re trained on text-based platforms like Wikipedia or books, Hannah Rose Kirk, a social data science student at the Oxford Internet Institute, said in a 2021 blog post.
Rachel Moran, a researcher who studies disinformation about COVID-19 at the University of Washington, previously told Politifact that the encryption has a downside: Because it’s harder to understand, the banned information still travels slower than if it were in plain English. to be.
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