By Peter Suciu
Facebook on Thursday announced new tactics to reduce the spread of fake news. Its efforts will include combining technology with human reviewers to identify and remove fake accounts; partnering with fact-checkers; and promoting news literacy.
Facebook will expand its fact-checking programs to new countries, scrutinize photos and videos more closely, and increase the impact of fact-checking through new techniques that could include identifying duplicates and using Claim Review.
It will monitor repeat offenders more closely and take actions as necessary. It will undertake new efforts to improve measurement techniques, and partner with academies to provide greater transparency.
Those efforts will be ongoing indefinitely, Facebook said, admitting that there is still a lot of ground left to cover.
World of Social Media
Fake news does not affect the United States alone, so Facebook decided to expand its fact-checking program across the globe. Since the program’s launch last spring, the third-party fact-checking program already has spread to 14 countries. Participants include The Associated Press, Snopes, Factcheck.org and The Weekly Standard in the United States, as well as 20 Minutes and Agence France Presse in France and Aos Fatos in Brazil, among others.
These certified and independent groups — which to date have reduced the distribution of stories rated “false” by an average of 80 percent — will continue to rate the accuracy of content on Facebook.
Corrections and disputes will be processed at the fact-checkers’ discretion, but the groups have been asked to respond to requests in a reasonable time period — typically one business day for a simple correction, and up to a few days for more complex disputes.
Facebook will expand the fact-checking to photos and videos, and it will utilize new technologies. Machine learning, for example, will allow it to identify duplicates of debunked stories.
Machine learning also will be utilized to identify and demote foreign pages that could be spreading financially motivated hoaxes to people.
Efforts to improve measurement techniques and transparency include more partnerships with academics to conduct independent research about the role social media played in recent elections, as well as its impact on democracy in general.
Those found violating the rules regarding the proliferation of fake news may be penalized by a reduction in their Facebook presence and removal of their ability to monetize content.
Way Beyond Yellow Journalism
Fake news isn’t new to social media. The yellow journalism of the early 20th century is just one example of how newspapers of the day could sway public opinion. However, social media has a greater reach and allows content to be much more targeted. Further, that content comes from a far greater number of sources than a few goal-minded publishers.
“This is going to be a big problem for Facebook, and I would not want to be in Zuckerberg’s shoes when he has to start policing Facebook users’ posts,” said social media consultant Lon Safko.
“To put it into perspective, Facebook adds 500,000 new users every day, which is roughly six new profiles every second,” he told TechNewsWorld.
“Every 60 seconds, 510,000 comments are posted, 293,000 statuses are updated, and 136,000 photos are uploaded from over 2.20 billion monthly active Facebook users worldwide,” Safko pointed out.
“Facebook gets over 8 billion average daily video views, while there are more than 250 billion photos uploaded to Facebook, which equates to 350 million new photos per day,” he added. “Facebook users generate 4 million likes every minute, and there are an estimated 83 million fake profiles. All this makes Facebook the fourth most-valuable brand in the world, with a value of (US)$73.5 billion. Good luck verifying all that content.”
The Truth in Social Media
Given those facts, simply distinguishing the truth from fake news could be nearly impossible — but another complicating factor is the divide in America.
“If you watch a ‘liberal/Democrat’ CNN story on President Trump, then turn to Fox News, which is far more ‘conservative/Republican,’ and hear them report on the exact same incident, your head spins to hear such completely different ‘facts’ being reported,” noted Safko.
“It’s astonishing, and you won’t believe what you hear. Where is the line between true news and fake news in this scenario? And who would Facebook censor?” he wondered. “We can’t expect both to be right.”
However, Facebook — along with its partners — could seek to reduce the far more blatant fake news that clearly isn’t just spin on actual facts.
“Facebook has done a number of things to address fake news — crowdsourcing detection and partnering with fact checking organizations,” noted Greg Sterling, vice president of strategy and insights at the Local Search Association.
It isn’t clear how effective this has actually been, however, he told TechNewsWorld.
“I can speculate that it will be impossible to entirely stamp out fake news because of the viral/sharing nature of the platform,” Sterling said. “The important question is how vigilant and determined Facebook is to minimize the problem, and how willing it is to commit additional resources and to try alternative approaches if the current ones are not producing results.”
How Fake Is It?
A thorny consideration — even among media partners — is how to determine what constitutes “fake” news.
A statement that Germany won World War II easily could be fact-checked and debunked. If the comments of a celebrity or politician cannot be verified by multiple sources, they might fall into the realm of rumor or hearsay — but that technically is not fake news.
“The truth is, identifying the truth is nearly impossible,” said Safko.
“Then there’s the First Amendment of the Constitution of United States, which guarantees freedom of speech and freedom of the press, and someone will bring that into play,” he added.
Thus efforts to stop fake news could be met with cries of censorship. Or, efforts to stop the spread of fake news actually could be an example of good PR or corporate propaganda.
“Zuckerberg is blowing smoke again, just like he did with his apology for ‘accidentally letting personal information about its user’s out,'” suggested Safko.
“It wasn’t an accident,” he said, “and Zuckerberg is going to convince us all that Facebook is concerned about fake news, while doing nothing other pulling down the occasional story to give evidence to their conviction. As always, passive-aggressive is the best way to protect market value.”
Peter Suciu has been an ECT News Network reporter since 2012. His areas of focus include cybersecurity, mobile phones, displays, streaming media, pay TV and autonomous vehicles. He has written and edited for numerous publications and websites, including Newsweek, Wired and FoxNews.com. Email Peter.