Facebook Threatened To Delete Groups Making Hand-Sewn Masks Amid Coronavirus Outbreak

Facebook reportedly blocked some netizens in the past week from sharing their homemade face masks to frontliners. People said the social media giant also threatened to delete the pages of volunteer sewers and those that coordinate donation campaigns.

The issue comes amid the national shortage of protective equipment for doctors, nurses and other frontliners dealing with the COVID-19 pandemic. Netizens said Facebook prevented them from posting or commenting on volunteer pages that promote or seek homemade face masks, the New York Times reported.

However, it appeared that an automated content moderation system mistakenly added the volunteer pages or groups to the list of sources of harmful coronavirus content. Facebook said it made an “error” in threatening to ban the organizers of hand-sewn masks.

“The automated systems we set up to prevent the sale of medical masks needed by health workers have inadvertently blocked some efforts to donate supplies,” Facebook said in a statement. “We apologize for this error and are working to update our systems to avoid mistakes like this going forward. We don’t want to put obstacles in the way of people doing a good thing.”

It is not the first time that people reported an issue with Facebook’s automated systems. The site previously removed posts that included links of news related to COVID-19 even from legitimate news sites.

In its latest error, netizens said they received a message from Facebook threatening to delete volunteer sewing groups that discussed coronavirus. The issue affected mask makers in states like Pennsylvania, Illinois and California.

Nicole Jochym, a student at Cooper Medical School of Rowan University in Camden, N.J., said some posts by her organization Sew Face Masks Philadelphia were taken down by Facebook in the past week for failing to follow its guidelines. She received private messages from Facebook threatening to limit her posts.

The group encourages people to gather household materials to create face masks for frontliners. Sew Face Masks Philadelphia has more than 3,500 followers.

“We support Facebook in their efforts in removing unethical sales from their platform,” Jochym said. “But we are hoping that they can update their procedures to protect community organizations such as ours.”

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