The problem of fake news on Facebook has been highly publicized recently, and while the social network says it is doing what it can to tackle the issue, it seems the company is actually adding fuel to the fire.
Based on false reports of an explosion in Bangkok, Thailand, Facebook’s Safety Check feature was activated. This in turn helped to give the initial story authenticity, helping with the spread of fake news. Safety Check has itself proved to be a controversial feature, and combined with flakey news algorithms, it resulted in a perfect storm.
The problem was sparked off by a one-man protest near the office of Thailand’s prime minister involving “giant firecrackers”. Seemingly misunderstood or exaggerated local reports of the “explosion” involved in the protest led to the activation of Safety Check, and things then started to get out of control.
As well as enabling Safety Check to allow people in the area to let friends and family know that they were OK, Facebook also included a link to a local story about the “explosion”. The article included an old video from the BBC of the bombing of the Erawan Shrine.
Newspapers in Thailand were then forced into disaster recovery mode, seeking to reassure people that there has not been an incident involving a bomb, but Facebook stands by its decision to activate Safety Check. A spokesperson said:
As with all safety check activations, Facebook relies on a trusted third party to first confirm the incident and then on the community to use the tool and share with friends and family.
The incident demonstrates not only the problem of fake news, but also the power that Facebook has — particularly the combined danger and the panic it can cause. As noted by the Guardian, the incorrect report on BangkokInformer.com was subsequently used by other news sites and, in conjunction with the seemingly confirmatory activation of Safety Check, help to further spread the false story. So much for the independent fact-checkers Facebook is supposed to be using…