Tags: facebook | fake news | disputed feature

Facebook's Latest Effort to Combat Fake News Likely Doomed to Fail

Facebook's Latest Effort to Combat Fake News Likely Doomed to Fail
The Facebook sign and logo is seen in Menlo Park, California, on November 4, 2016. (Josh Edelson/AFP/Getty Images)

Monday, 14 August 2017 03:06 PM Current | Bio | Archive

Facebook is trying yet another new tactic in its war against fake news, but is it enough to make a difference?

Ever since the announcement of the 2016 presidential election results, Facebook, Google, and other online authorities have been criticized for their role in allowing the mass spread of “fake news,” which includes articles, images, and hoaxes that have no basis in fact.

Fake news is thought to be responsible for numerous destructive events (and beliefs), including a purported conspiracy involving a Washington, D.C. pizza chain.

So what exactly is Facebook doing to mitigate the spread of fake news, and is it going to work?

Why Was Facebook Blamed?

First, let’s take a step back. Facebook never actually created any fake news, and from what we can tell, didn’t syndicate any of it. Instead, Facebook was blamed because its platform makes it easy for users to spread news quickly, and in isolated “echo chambers” that reinforce existing opinions.

With nearly 2 billion users and instant access, a single article can be shared millions of times before it’s seriously investigated, and thanks to sophisticated newsfeed algorithms that feed you more of the information you already like, you’re bound to see repeating themes that reinforce your existing assumptions.

On top of that, before the election, Facebook took no serious effort to identify, flag, and/or remove posts that appeared to be fake, inaccurate, or misleading.

Facebook’s Ongoing Effort

Almost immediately after the election, Mark Zuckerberg published a long post, explaining his desires to both preserve free rights to post material without censorship and fight back against the hoaxes and fake news articles that had plagued the Facebook community.

About a month after that post, Facebook rolled out a new feature to allow users to flag posts as disputed, or inaccurate; at that point, the posts would be forwarded to independent fact checking organizations (including Snopes, Politifact, and the Associated Press) for review. Posts deemed inaccurate or misleading would be marked by a “disputed” tag and allowed to continue circulating.

Now, Facebook is taking things a step further. When a user encounters an article (or headline) that is disputed, he/she will see a list of “Related Articles” underneath, which offer differing viewpoints and (most likely) a more reliable analysis of the situation. Some may be articles that present the facts and inaccuracies directly, while others may be similar articles written with a different political or personal perspective in mind.

Either way, readers will be forced to confront multiple opinions and independently verified sets of facts before clicking on (and reading) disputed news articles.

Will It Be Enough?

This latest change is just one of a series of steps taken by Facebook and other online influencers to establish a foundation of higher quality content for its users. Will it be enough to extinguish the influence of fake news?

Probably not; the echo chamber still remains, and thanks to a combination of confirmation bias and in-group loyalty, many users susceptible to believing fake news will keep on believing it, regardless of what alternatives are presented to them. However, Facebook’s effort is to be commended, as every step forward is a step toward a more neutral, accurate online landscape.

Facebook isn’t solely responsible for making sure people read the right things, but with 1.8 billion users, any effort will have an impact.

Larry Alton is a professional blogger, writer, and researcher. A graduate of Iowa State University, he's now a full-time freelance writer and business consultant. Currently, Larry writes for Entrepreneur.com, Inc.com, and Forbes.com, among others. In addition to journalism, technical writing and in-depth research, he’s also active in his community and spends weekends volunteering with a local non-profit literacy organization and rock climbing. Follow him on Twitter (@LarryAlton3), at LinkedIn.com/in/larryalton, and on his website, LarryAlton.com. To read more of his reports — Click Here Now.

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Facebook is trying yet another new tactic in its war against fake news, but is it enough to make a difference?
facebook, fake news, disputed feature
Monday, 14 August 2017 03:06 PM
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