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Facebook partners with third-party fact checkers to rein in fake news

Forbes logo Forbes 15/12/2016 Kathleen Chaykowski, Forbes Staff

Facebook announced a series of steps on Thursday that the company is taking to better address fake news and hoaxes. (Associated Press) © Facebook announced a series of steps on Thursday that the company is taking to better address fake n... Facebook announced a series of steps on Thursday that the company is taking to better address fake news and hoaxes. (Associated Press)

For weeks, Facebook has been scrutinized over its handling of fake news, and debate has swirled over whether misinformation on the social network could have affected the U.S. presidential election. On Thursday, the company unveiled the biggest updates it has made to date to better identify and minimize fake news and hoaxes on its service.

First, articles on Facebook which are reported enough times by the community or flagged through other signals will now be examined by a group of third-party fact checking organizations in Poynter’s International Fact Checking Network, as part of a new Facebook program. If the fact checkers determine the news is fake, the article will be labeled as “disputed” on Facebook with a explanation from the fact checking team. Facebook said users will still be able to share these stories, but will see a warning message that the story is “disputed” when they click to share it. Facebook will also rank “disputed” stories lower in news feed and will not allow “disputed “stories to be turned into ads and promoted. Facebook is also taking steps to diminish the financial incentives behind producing fake news. To help prevent spammers from masquerading as recognized news organizations, Facebook said it has eliminated the ability to spoof domains to reduce the number of sites that pretend to be real publications. Facebook said it will also review publisher sites to assess whether the content is clearly spam.

And on the user side, Facebook is testing new ways to make it easier for people to report fake news or hoaxes, which users can currently do by clicking the upper right hand corner of a post. To decrease the prominence of fake news in news feed, Facebook is also experimenting with a new ranking signal which gives stories that have been shared very infrequently after being read a low ranking. (Facebook found that if reading an article makes people much less likely to share it, it could signal that the article has misled readers in some way.)

A preview of a disputed story. (Courtesy of Facebook) © A preview of a disputed story. (Courtesy of Facebook) A preview of a disputed story. (Courtesy of Facebook)

“We believe in giving people a voice and that we cannot become arbiters of truth ourselves, so we’re approaching this problem carefully,” Facebook’s vice president leading news feed, Adam Mosseri, said in a post. “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.”

Other media platforms such as Twitter and Google have also been critiqued over their polices on false content. The announcement comes a few weeks after Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerbergdescribed plans the social network was exploring to tackle fake news. In that post, Zuckerberg described a multi-pronged approach which includes stronger technical systems to classify misinformation and more quickly flag content as false; simpler reporting tools; third-party fact checkers; the possibility of prominent warning labels on articles that indicate third parties have categorized content as false; featuring higher quality articles in the “Trending Stories” section; deterring fake news publishers from profiting from Facebook traffic; and seeking insight from journalists and the media industry to better understand fact checking systems.

Last month, Zuckerberg called the notion that Facebook could have influenced the outcome of the presidential election “a pretty crazy idea.” One fake story about that Pope Francis had endorsed Donald Trump was shared about 1 million times. And last month, Buzzfeed reported that a small group of teens in Macedonia were responsible for dozens or more conspiracy theories that sometimes accrued hundreds of thousands of likes and shares on Facebook. 

Facebook said it is targeting the worst offenders with Thursday’s updates, and that the changes are only some of the steps Facebook is taking to address fake news. The company said the updates will start to roll out this week in the U.S.

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