According to a BBC investigation, anti-vaxxers are using emojis to avoid detection by social media algorithms.
A large Facebook group used the carrot emoji to replace the word vaccine, according to the BBC.
The shot glass emoji has also been used to replace the word “shot” and denigrate vaccines.
Groups that share unsubstantiated claims that people are injured or killed by vaccines are avoiding social media bans on anti-vaxx content by using the carrot emoji, according to a BBC investigation.
According to the BBC, several social media groups were using emoji as a code for the word “vaccine”. The simple ploy allowed them to continue to unhindered publishing the content that the networks had committed to eliminating.
A Facebook group using the code, which the BBC did not name, had over 250,000 members.
The group’s rules stated: “Use code words for everything” and “Never use the word c, word v or word b” meaning “COVID”, “vaccine” or “booster”, according to the BBC.
The trend was also noted by Marc Owen Jones, assistant professor of Middle East studies at Hamad bin Khalifa University in Qatar who studies disinformation. The BBC said Jones was invited to the large Facebook group.
He said this in a Twitter thread on Sunday the carrot emoji symbol was used to replace the word vaccine “presumably to evade censorship. Very strange”.
According to a screenshot shared by Jones in a tweetthe group administrator stated that they would remove all unencrypted posts and that “coding is important and the carrots to date have not been collected by the AI censors”.
Another image shared by Jones showed the shot glass emoji used to replace the word “shot”, although he did not specify where the image was taken.
The BBC reported the group using emojis as code for Facebook’s parent company Meta, which took them down.
“We have removed this group for violating our malicious disinformation policies and will review any other similar content in line with this policy. We continue to work closely with public health experts and the UK government to further address vaccine misinformation. Covid, “Meta said in a statement to the BBC.
Some groups reappeared shortly after they were removed, according to the BBC.
A previous Politifact report found other tactics used to thwart automated moderation, such as using deliberate spelling mistakes like spelling “Seedy Sea” and “Eff Dee Aye” instead of CDC and FDA.
The BBC also found examples of posts that used the unicorn emoji or the V-shaped symbol for Aries astrological signs as substitutes for the word “vaccine”.
Other examples of emoji-based coding include using them to get away with posting racist abuse.
Emojis are harder for algorithms to understand because they are trained on text platforms like Wikipedia or books, said Hannah Rose Kirk, a social data science student at the Oxford Internet Institute, in a blog post from 2021.
Rachel Moran, a researcher who studies COVID-19 disinformation at the University of Washington, previously told Politifact that coding has a disadvantage: because it’s harder to understand, banned information travels even slower than if it were in a Simple English.
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