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Conservatives to QAnon: Facebook Researchers Saw How Its Algorithms Led to Misinformation

MENLO PARK (CBS NEWS) -- Facebook researchers in 2019 created three dummy accounts to study the platform's technology for recommending content in the News Feed. The first was for a user in India, its biggest market. Then it created two more test accounts to represent a conservative American user and a liberal one.

All three accounts engaged exclusively with content recommended by Facebook's algorithms. Within days, the liberal account, dubbed "Karen Jones," started seeing "Moscow Mitch" memes, which referred to a nickname by critics of Republican Senator Mitch McConnell after he blocked bills to protect American elections from foreign interference.

The conservative account, "Carol Smith," was guided toward QAnon conspiracy theories. Meanwhile, the test user's News Feed in India was filled with inflammatory material containing violent and graphic images related to India's border skirmishes with Pakistan.

The Facebook researcher running the Indian test user's account wrote in a report that year: "I've seen more images of dead people in the past 3 weeks than I've seen in my entire life total," adding that, "the graphic content was recommended by [Facebook] via recommended groups, pages, videos, and posts."

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