There is no way Mark Zuckerberg could have known when he created his social media giant, that in between dog videos, baby pictures, and relationship status updates, user’s feeds would be peppered, no, overflowing with shared links to politically charged news stories and suggested ads for similarly-related content. Now, there is nothing wrong with free speech, nor is there anything wrong with your distant relative showing her true colors via the “share” button, but the problem that has been addressed recently by Facebook’s new update is discerning whether those true colors are actually, well, true.
Alternative Facts. Fake News. Libel. These words may sound familiar in today’s media as heated exchanges between news outlets and public figures skew the general population’s views on nearly every level of the political spectrum. Exaggeration and picking-and-choosing one’s facts is one thing, but straight up lying is another, and Facebook, one of the largest platforms on which people voice their opinions, is taking the matter into its own hands by flagging stories that have been disputed by third parties and by allowing users to report posts, too.
While Facebook is hardly the only means by which falsities are spread, CEO Zuckerberg acknowledges the platform his startup has: “I recognize we have a greater responsibility than just building technology that information flows through. While we don’t write the news stories you read and share, we also recognize we’re more than just a distributor of news. We’re a new kind of platform for public discourse — and that means we have a new kind of responsibility to enable people to have the most meaningful conversations and to build a space where people can be informed.” The program’s objectives are detailed in the video Facebook released when they were testing the initiative in December.
When a story is disputed, a notification will pop up next to the link, prompting users to click on the tag to discover why a story has been labeled as false. While you can still go and share that story, Facebook will again warn you with a notice that the story being shared has been disputed, asking again if you want to go ahead and post it. For those who think they smell a rat, Facebook allows its users to do their own sleuthing and report stories by using the pull-down tab next to the article. It’s all quite simple really.
Satirical websites like The Onion and TheSeattleTribune.com have garnered criticism for their misleading and often falsified news stories meant to mimic real news. Those who are familiar with such sites understand the joke, but others may use fake stories to fuel the fire of their personal agenda.
To further remove the grunt work of fact-checking, Facebook has partnered with independent fact-checking organizations that verify the validity of a story using guidelines set forth by the Poynter Organization International Fact Checking Network. There is also a list in the works of notably untrustworthy website domains that the site automatically flags when one of their stories makes the rounds.
Satirical websites like The Onion and TheSeattleTribune.com have garnered criticism for their misleading and often falsified news stories meant to mimic real news. Those who are familiar with such sites understand the joke, but others may use fake stories to fuel the fire of their personal agenda. The Onion’s own tagline, “A farcical newspaper featuring world, national and community news,” wasn’t enough to dissuade Jeb Bush opponents from sharing the link to an article entitled “Jeb Bush Bungles Several Questions on First Day Back at Home”. In fact this piece was liked more than 37 thousand times and shared more than 4.5 thousand times on Facebook alone. Sure, many people may understand the satire, but the danger for those who cite this information as fact is very real.
In 2016, an article claimed that Hillary Clinton’s team was involved in a human trafficking scandal, operated out of a D.C. based pizza joint. What started as libel quickly turned into a life-and-death situation, as a 28-year-old fired his gun inside the pizzeria in an attempt to look for and free the child slaves. He was arrested upon discovering that there were in fact, no children in peril.
Aside from dispelling fake news, the new update seeks to deter spammers from spreading false stories to get users to click on their advertisements. Yes, even pesky ads are not immune to Facebook’s purge of its content. Now, curious minds need not worry about being coaxed into clicking onto a phishing site with the promise of helping to stop terrorism or supporting a political candidate’s campaign. After an ad has been flagged by Facebook, it can not longer be promoted in newsfeeds or in Facebook ads.
While this update has felt a long time coming, it’s important not to get too trigger happy when it comes to looking for and reporting fake news. Forbes reports that Facebook is slowly implementing the feature and that users should be patient in waiting for this feature to appear in the coming weeks. In the meantime, what we can look forward to are more tweets from United States president Donald Trump, who is currently battling the fake news crisis and constantly reminding Americans to be on the lookout for any disreputable sources. Because lies are everywhere. Sad!