Facebook Fires First Salvo in Fight Against Fake News

Facebook releases a new update to combat fake news but, will it actually work?

While fake news is not a new phenomenon, its ability to reach previously unprecedented audiences with the help of social media is something entirely new. As such, many observers have pointed a finger at the likes of Facebook and Twitter for their role of undermining ‘legitimate’ news sources during this year’s election.

There might be some truth to this and earlier this week Facebook took its first steps in the fight against fake news.  The company announced that it has implemented a process to allow users to flag dubious postings and it would also work with the journalists to check the credibility of an article.

While the step was welcomed by most observers, there were some who worried that the process may eventually end up being abused as users and ‘fact-checkers’ rely on personal bias to confirm the authenticity of a posting.  Another issue is the lack of a clear audit trail (similar to Wikipedia) and a process to appeal a decision if a posting has been found to be inaccurate in some way.

Facebook announced a new plan to tackle fake news on the sociaal media network. (Image courtesy of Facebook.com)

In addition, the company announced that it will not remove the posting altogether. However, dubious postings will be labeled with the following warning – ‘Disputed by 3rd Party Fact-Checkers’.  This in itself could raise eyebrows, especially for fake news devotees who tend to discount the reporting of all ‘mainstream media sources’.

Any effort to vet information online is welcome. However, the move by Facebook to raise a number of questions.  First, some analysts have wondered how liable should Facebook be for the information posted on the social media site.  While some would say the company has a responsibility to stop the spread of speech which is hateful or blatantly false.  Others point out that there is a thin line between being diligent and projecting personal bias.

Rand Paul
Stock Photo:COUNCIL BLUFFS, IA – AUGUST 4: Seth D sells Rand Paul buttons outside the Pottawattamie County Republican headquarters August 4, 2014 in Council Bluffs, Iowa. (Eric Francis / Shutterstock.com)

One example of this is a rating given by Politifact to Senator Rand Paul (R-KY) and Former Senator Jim Webb (D-VA) regarding a quote on federal income tax prior to 1913.  While both men said basically the same thing, Politifact rated Senator Paul’s comment as ‘Half True’ and Senator Webb’s comment as ‘Mostly True.’  Regardless of political views, this is a clear indication of bias in Politico’s rating system and if Facebook were to run into the same issues, the fallout could several hurt its brand image.

Facebook Fake News
Stock Photo: WARSAW, POLAND – MAY 22: Facebook has over 10 million Polish users. May 22, 2013 in Warsaw, Poland. (Lukasz Stefanski / Shutterstock.com)

In the end, the company is caught between users who see fake news as a threat and those who see it as either satire, novelty, or in extreme cases there only trusted source of news.  The fact that the company feels compelled to take steps probably points to how social media networks are increasingly become echo chambers to amplify one’s views.

As such, the company might want to look at the underlying causes of how the network, which was meant to bring people together, is slowly pulling them apart. That being said, it is probably easier to focus on a rating system for posts.


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