Facebook treads thin black line in battle against fake news

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In response to a salvo of criticism aimed at Facebook Inc. for disseminating fake news, the social network said Thursday that it has begun working on a series of solutions, including fact-checking by news and other organizations.

A few weeks ago, Facebook announced that it planned to use artificial intelligence to flag offensive live videos with an aim to flag all “offensive” content in the future. This was similar to Google Inc.’s proposed algorithm to spot trolls, also raising a similar controversy concerning the question: When does moderation become censorship?

Facebook has said, however, that it is taking great care not to become the “arbiters of truth,” stating in a press release: “We’ve focused our efforts on the worst of the worst, on the clear hoaxes spread by spammers for their own gain.”

The plan of action is manifold. For one, Facebook will give users the opportunity to flag what they perceive as a hoax posing as real news. Users can click on the upper righthand corner of a post and will be given the option to report the news to Facebook as fake, or if they choose they can take issue with the poster.

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Facebook will work with organizations such as ABC News, AP, FactCheck.org, PolitiFact and Snopes, working under the guidelines in Poynter’s International Fact Checking Code of Principles.

If posts are determined to be false news, they will be flagged for everyone to see with a label stating, “Disputed by – one or more of the fact-checking organizations.” Alternatively and simultaneously, the post could be made less visible on the news feed. Publishers can assert the truth of the post but not to Facebook, rather they will have to wrestle with the fact-checking organizations, which Facebook says are not being paid.

Facebook Chief Executive Mark Zuckerberg has accepted that news agencies make mistakes, but now feels Facebook has a “new kind of responsibility” to crack down on the most egregious lies promulgated on the platform.

Moderating fake news will certainly be a difficult proposition. Although the majority of the public are reluctant to believe that the British Royal family are all “shape-shifting lizards,” even apparently legitimate stories can be misleading. After the Washington Post ran a story claiming “Russian propaganda effort helped spread ‘fake news’ during election,” it had to backtrack because it turned out to be based on a little-known group’s suspect research.

If the big guns can be accused of disseminating fake news, Facebook and its fact-checkers will have to prove themselves fastidious auditors indeed.

Photo credit: Lauren C via Flickr