Facebook reveals plan to tackle fake news

  • 9 min read
  • Dec 19, 2016


Social media giant introduces ‘disputed’ flag for stories and makes it easier to report hoaxes

Facebook has shared more details of how it plans to tackle fake news on its social media platform, after it was accused of allowing a proliferation of false news that may have swayed the outcome of the recent US presidential election.

In a post, Facebook VP Adam Mosseri said that Facebook will introduce easier ways of reporting hoaxes, and has started collaborating with a number of third-party fact-checking organisations.

Mosseri wrote: “We’re testing several ways to make it easier to report a hoax if you see one on Facebook, which you can do by clicking the upper right-hand corner of a post. We’ve relied heavily on our community for help on this issue, and this can help us detect more fake news.”

The company has also started a program in collaboration with fact checking parties that abide by Poynter’s International Fact Checking Code of Principles, which include ABC News, Full Fact and other organisations worldwide.

These organisations will fact check content on the platform and report stories that they found to be unreliable. The social media giant will then flag them as ‘disputed’ and provide a link to an article explaining why this is the case. ‘Disputed’ stories should also appear lower down in the News Feed.

Although Facebook users will still be able to share stories flagged as ‘disputed’, they will receive a notification before they share them saying “Disputed by 3rd Parties – Before you share this story, you might want to know that independent fact-checkers disputed its accuracy”.

Mosseri’s post adds: “We’ve found that if reading an article makes people significantly less likely to share it, that may be a sign that a story has misled people in some way. We’re going to test incorporating this signal into ranking, specifically for articles that are outliers, where people who read the article are significantly less likely to share it.”

Facebook said it also found many fake news propagators to be financially motivated, posting unreliable content pretending to be an established news source, in order to increase traffic on their website.

To reduce these instances, Facebook eliminated the ability to spoof domains and is now analysing publisher sites to detect cases in which policy enforcement is necessary.

“It’s important to us that the stories you see on Facebook are authentic and meaningful,” added Mosseri. “We’re excited about this progress, but we know there’s more to be done. We’re going to keep working on this problem for as long as it takes to get it right.

Facebook is also looking for a head of its news partnerships division, established to collaborate with news outputs to ensure better quality of content shared on the platform.

13/12/2016: Facebook seeks head of news partnerships
Facebook is advertising for a ‘head of news partnerships’ whose remit will include overseeing and managing its news partnerships team.

In the job advert the company said: “Facebook is seeking an experienced news executive to lead Global News Partnerships, serving as the company’s leading representative with news organisations worldwide. The goal of the News Partnerships team is to help publishers and journalists understand how to reach and engage their audiences, and to innovate with new technologies.”

The social media giant is currently trying to implement ways to tackle the proliferation of fake news within the platform. Critics have accused Facebook of spreading fake US election-related stories that might have influenced voters and facilitated Trump’s victory.

Facebook’s chief executive Mark Zuckerberg denied that fake news might have influenced the US elections, and said the vast majority of news posts on the platform are authentic.

In a Facebook post published a month ago, Zuckerberg wrote: “After the election, many people are asking whether fake news contributed to the result, and what our responsibility is to prevent fake news from spreading. These are very important questions and I care deeply about getting them right.”

The company is now introducing strategies that enable news to be more effectively monitored with the aim of improving the quality of content shared on Facebook.

In addition to detection systems, allowing users to flag suspicious posts, and a change in the algorithms ranking its content, Facebook also established a news partnerships team, which will collaborate with news outlets and oversee news stories shared on the platform.

Facebook is now looking for a head of this division, who will manage the team’s output and represent Facebook’s role in the news ecosystem publicly.

The ideal candidate is described as having at least 20 years of experience in news “with a strong track-record and understanding across the business.”

21/11/2016: Chrome plugin detects fake Facebook stories

A Chrome plugin that warns users news stories on Facebook could be fake set tongues wagging this weekend, with some users reporting it was the first stage in Mark Zuckerberg’s plans to stamp out made up stories on the site.

Although the B.S Detector was later found to be a Chrome browser plugin, it was at first reported by TechCrunch to be a beta version of the social network’s fake news story detector.

Users reported seeing the message, “This website is not a reliable news source. Reason: Classification Pending,” on some news stories, while others said they were presented with a red message above Facebook news feed stories stating the content was “State-Sponsored News.”

Before updating its original news story revealing that it was, in fact, the work of a third party that had developed a plugin, the news source reported that the flags flashed up and then disappeared when the page was reloaded, suggesting it wasn’t content every Facebook user was seeing.

The website said perhaps Facebook was taking the approach of blocking whole sites that listed questionable news stories rather than individual news stories.

However, after evidently discovering the flags were generated by a plugin that is used to detect stories that could be fake, it wrote: “The feature appears to be an implementation of the Chrome plugin B.S. Detector, which some users took as a test by Facebook itself. We’ll continue to investigate but for now, it looks like this is not a Facebook feature.”

21/11/2016: Zuckerberg unveils spam-hunting algorithms

After denying Facebook had a problem with fake news stories, the company’s founder Mark Zuckerberg has now revealed the measures the company will take to ensure news is always factual.

“We’ve made significant progress, but there is more work to be done,” Zuckerberg wrote in a blog post on the social network. “Historically, we have relied on our community to help us understand what is fake and what is not.”

Although the company will continue to take signals from its users about what’s real and what’s not, it will also implement some of its own parameters in order to stamp out the fakes.

The first step it will take is to introduce better algorithms to detect what’s fake and what’s not. “The most important thing we can do is improve our ability to classify misinformation. This means better technical systems to detect what people will flag as false before they do it themselves,” Zuckerberg said.

The company will make it easier for people to report stories as misinformed and it will introduce third-party verification, working with companies that do this as their main bread and butter and then flagging the stories as potentially unreal with labels and warnings to people who read them. Facebook will also work with journalists to get their input.

“A lot of misinformation is driven by financially motivated spam. We’re looking into disrupting the economics with ads policies like the one we announced earlier this week, and better ad farm detection.” Zuckerberg continued.

The final part of Facebook’s plan to eradicate fake news stories will be to ramp up the quality of related news stories underneath other stories in the news feed to ensure it’s showing only high-quality news stories.

“Some of these ideas will work well, and some will not,” Zuckerberg finished. “But I want you to know that we have always taken this seriously, we understand how important the issue is for our community and we are committed to getting this right.”

15/11/2016: Google and Facebook crack down on fake news sites

After claims that fake news circulating on Google and Facebook contributed to Donald Trump’s shock election win last week, the two companies are now taking steps to block ads on phoney websites.

The move follows heavy criticism of Facebook for an alleged lack of oversight during the US presidential election, in which false news reports were allowed to spread to potentially undecided voters. The claim is that many of these stories gave Trump and unfair advantage, something that Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg has since rejected.

Now Facebook and Google have announced they will be revising advertising policies to help limit the spread of ‘fake news’. Google is currently making changes to block ad content on websites engaged in spreading misleading stories, to starve them of revenue.

“We do not integrate or display ads in apps or sites containing content that is illegal, misleading or deceptive, which includes fake news,” added Facebook in a statement to Reuters. The company added that it would continue to vet publishers to catch fake stories.

A report by BuzzFeed News suggests that Facebook has deployed an unofficial task force made up of “more than dozens” of employees to deal with the issue of fake news.

A source inside the task force told BuzzFeed the company was well aware that fake news was a problem for the election, which is particularly damning given Zuckerberg’s public statements to the contrary.

“Mark Zuckerberg knows, and those of us at the company know, that fake news ran wild on our platform during the entire campaign season,” said an anonymous member of the task force.

However, blocking ads will not deal with the problem of hoax news stories appearing in the Google News feed. In the last few days a search for ‘final election count’ would direct users to a website that claimed Trump had won the popular vote, despite votes still being counted and showing Clinton with a slight lead.

The changes instead will simply limit financial support for websites choosing to publish inaccurate news. Google’s AdSense places text ads on millions of sites within its network, providing many with a major source of revenue.

“Moving forward, we will restrict ad serving on pages that misrepresent, misstate, or conceal information about the publisher, the publisher’s content, or the primary purpose of the web property,” said Google, in a statement to Reuters.

A recent BuzzFeed News report found that small publishers in Macedonia were taking AdSense revenue by creating articles on fake news websites, many of which were pro-Trump, that were then shared across social media.

14/11/2016: Facebook will take action against fake election news

Facebook’s Mark Zuckerberg has said he will work with staff to ensure fake news stories aren’t distributed through the social networks.

Although 99% of the news posted on Facebook is genuine, he said, the other 1% may not be the truth and this is a problem, he wrote on his Facebook page. However, he is still adamant made up news stories weren’t responsible for Donald Trump being voted president in the US election.

“Only a very small amount is fake news and hoaxes,” Zuckerberg said. “The hoaxes that do exist are not limited to one partisan view, or even to politics,” he added. News stories related to the election last week, in his opinion, were not likely to have changed the result one way or the other.

“That said, we don’t want any hoaxes on Facebook. Our goal is to show people the content they will find most meaningful, and people want accurate news,” he added. “We have already launched work enabling our community to flag hoaxes and fake news, and there is more we can do here. We have made progress, and we will continue to work on this to improve further.”

An increasing number of people around the world use Facebook as their main source of news and this makes it even more important for the company to ensure any news is factual.

However, the act of identifying whether news is true or not is not an easy task. Any news that is flagged up as being fake will need to be carefully scrutinised, he said, and the company must tread carefully.

“Identifying the ‘truth’ is complicated. While some hoaxes can be completely debunked, a greater amount of content, including from mainstream sources, often gets the basic idea right but some details wrong or omitted,” he wrote.

“An even greater volume of stories express an opinion that many will disagree with and flag as incorrect even when factual.”

11/11/2016: Zuckerberg: Fake Facebook news didn’t help Trump win

Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg yesterday denied that his social network helped Donald Trump win the US election.

In an interview at the Techonomy conference in California, Zuckerberg said fake news on Facebook could not have influenced the outcome of the presidential election.

He said: “Personally, I think the idea that fake news on Facebook – it’s a very small amount of the content – to think it influenced the election in any way is a pretty crazy idea.”

He added that if fake news were shared, it was likely that both candidates adopted this strategy.

After Trump’s win, Fortune reported the views of critics who believed fake news on Facebook played a role in the US election outcome.

Facebook has about 1.79 billion users of all political affiliations. During the interview, which was carried out by David Kirkpatrick, author of the book The Facebook effect, Zuckerberg highlighted the variety of backgrounds populating the Facebook community.

“Even if 90% of your friends are Democrats, probably 10% are Republicans,” he said. “Even if you live in some state or country you will know some people in another state, another country. That means that the information you are getting through the social system is going to be inherently more diverse than you would have gotten through news stations.”

Zuckerberg’s interview took place two days after Trump won the election, despite Hillary Clinton winning more votes overall.

He said: “Voters make decisions based on their lived experience. There is a profound lack of empathy in asserting that the only reason someone would have voted the way they did is because they saw fake news. If you believe that, then I don’t think you internalised the message that Trump voters are trying to send in this election.”

Zuckerberg did not, however, state what message he was referring to.

This is not the first time that Facebook is accused of spreading fake news. In August, Facebook substituted its team of news curators with algorithms that automatically select stories to place in its Trending News section.

This could have led to false news being selected without them being verified. Facebook hence introduced a new ‘review team’, to try and solve this problem.

In the interview, Zuckerberg admitted that a lot still had to be done to improve the quality of news that reaches the public, but he dismissed the idea that fake news could influence voters to this extent.

Just a few months ago, Reuters reported that Facebook, alongside other social media and technology platforms such as Twitter, joined a group called First Draft Coalition, whose goal is to tackle fake news and produce more trustworthy information.


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