Facebook has been under some pressure to combat the proliferation of fake news on the platform and even though Mark Zuckerberg has been adamant that Facebook is not a media platform, it has had to come out and address these issues.
Late last week, Facebook said that it has taken new steps in the ongoing fight to control the spread of fraudulent articles, even as public opinion continues to rise against the platform for not doing enough.
“We believe in giving people a voice and that we cannot become arbiters of truth ourselves, so we’re approaching this problem carefully. We’ve focused our efforts on the worst of the worst, on the clear hoaxes spread by spammers for their own gain, and on engaging both our community and third party organizations. The work falls into the following four areas. These are just some of the first steps we’re taking to improve the experience for people on Facebook. We’ll learn from these tests, and iterate and extend them over time,” said Adam Mosseri, VP of Newsfeed in a post on the official Facebook blog.
Among some of the news steps that the company has announced are making it easy for users to report a hoax on Facebook .
“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,” read the blog post.
The company also said that it will be working with third party fact checking organizations , “that are signatories of Poynter’s International Fact Checking Code of Principles”.
“We’ll use the reports from our community, along with other signals, to send stories to these organizations. If the fact checking organizations identify a story as fake, it will get flagged as disputed and there will be a link to the corresponding article explaining why. Stories that have been disputed may also appear lower in News Feed,” the company has said.
But does it make sense for letting the user decide what news is fake? Is that not giving a lot of freedom to the user who might be driven by their motivations, which was something, ironically, seen in the US elections, which actually led to the whole controversy in the first place?
According to Preetham Venkky, Director, KRDS Singapore, the most important thing before Facebook right now is how it balances between stopping obviously fake news but still not coming across as someone who throttles freedom of expression. “If you think about, there is more false news being spread on Whatsapp but this is something no one is talking about,” he added. “There has always been fraudulent content on the platform that will not change.”
When asked whether this affects Facebook negatively, he opined that Facebook is trying hard to not get a political backlash. “The efforts that Facebook is making to combat fake news are also politically motivated since they do not want any sort of a backlash. At the end of the day, what they are concerned about is more traffic,” he added.
But does it really affect Facebook, which wants to project itself as a major content discovery platform?
Says Manan Kotak, Digital Head at Chitalekha, “Well that is why trusted media brands are necessary online. We normally always cross check before putting up any news on our website or social media. We are ok with news getting uploaded a few minutes late, but the validity of the news has to be confirmed through the right sources. It maybe difficult for Facebook to regulate fake news due to its large number of users, going in billions and presence in various countries. Only when a fake post or news has gone very viral that it may come to their notice, by which time the damage has already been done.”
In some way, even Venkky agrees with this. According to him, situations like these would actually make media companies be more careful about the sources that they quote in news stories. We have actually not seen that happening and, as Venkky points out, even during the Indian elections there were enough similar incidents, which did not create the same level of controversy due to the scale not being global enough.