Facebook is cracking down on hoaxes, scams and “deliberately false or misleading news stories,” the company announced in a blog post.
The social network plans to begin filtering out bogus stories in an effort to become a more reliable news source for users.
“We are not reviewing content and making a determination on its accuracy,” says Facebook engineer Erich Owens and research scientist Udi Weinsberg. However, users will be given the option to flag things as a “false news story” via a drop-down menu on each post.
Unlike Facebook’s sensitive content filters, fake news stories won’t be entirely deleted from the platform, but a warning label will be attached to the story and it will be downgraded within users News Feeds.
Popular parody and satire news outlets like The Onion and The Daily Show should not suffer from this change. “We’ve found from testing that people tend not to report satirical content intended to be humorous, or content that is clearly labelled as satire. This type of content should not be affected by this update,” the company explained.
It’s easy to see how the warning label could be abused by rabid fan bases. For instance, Justin Bieber fans may band together to tag a critical story about the star with the label which reads, “Many people on Facebook have reported that this story contains false information.”
However, this change should be a positive one overall. Fake news sites have long plagued the social platform by perpetuating terrifying rumours for profit.
In October, many so called “satire” sites capitalised on Ebola panic by disseminating false information, claiming an entire town in Texas had been quarantined and that the virus was rapidly making its way around the nation.
“We’ve seen stories on satire sites — fake news sites — getting tremendous traction because they feed on people’s fears,” Craig Silverman, the founder of real-time rumour tracker Emergent.Info, told the Verge. “It’s really becoming an epidemic now.”
It’s easy for false stories to confuse users and quickly gain traction on Facebook, largely because the information or “story” is so decoupled from the publisher. A user may post one story from the New York Times and one from fake news site the National Report and both will look nearly identical in a user’s feed.
Facebook has been trying to position itself as a reputable real-time news source and this update is in line with those efforts. The company introduced trending topics last January and launched a standalone news app, Paper, a month later.
Facebook is also in a continual battle to source only the most interesting and relevant posts and has made several previous attempts to clean up the News Feed. In November, Facebook announced an effort to decrease the number of blatant promotional messages people see in their feeds (though it did not reduce the number of paid ads served). The company also rolled out
enhanced filtering options that same month.