Facebook was wrongly blocking news articles about the coronavirus pandemic for a full day - here's why it took so long to fix such a major issue

Mark Zuckerberg

Drew Angerer/Getty Images

Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg.

On March 17, for nearly a full 24 hours, Facebook users posting news about coronavirus were being wrongly blocked

Attempts from users to share news links from reputable publications - including Politico, BuzzFeed, and Business Insider, among many others - were blocked. More specifically, the posts were marked as spam and users were presented with a warning that they'd violated the social network's terms of service agreement.

"This post goes against our Community Standards on spam," the warning says. 

Nearly 24 hours later, Facebook amended the error and posting returned to normal - an unusually long time for such a major error during a worldwide pandemic. And it sounds like the error took so long to fix because of conditions created by the coronavirus outbreak.

Facebook engineers working on the issue reportedly "struggled to communicate remotely with one another over how the bug had been introduced and what it would take to fix it," according to a report in The New York Times on Tuesday. Business Insider has reached out to Facebook for comment on the report.

The company has struggled to keep up with increased usage due to the coronavirus pandemic keeping more people than ever indoors and online. Its army of contract moderators is unable to moderate the service because it relies on being in offices equipped with secure systems intended to protect user privacy. As a result, Facebook is relying on algorithms and full-time moderators it employs to police the service.

Zuckerberg denied that those moderation changes were the cause of the recent issue in a call with reporters last week.

"This was just a technical error," Zuckerberg said. "This was not because of coronavirus, and it was not because of our change in approach to ... content moderation strategy." He didn't, however, address why it took so long for Facebook to fix the error.

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