Facebook is making another attempt to crack down on fake news

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  • Facebook announced a series of moves on Wednesday aimed at preventing the spread of misinformation on its social network and communications apps.
  • The company said it will add new information to rate the “quality” and clickbait “status” of Facebook pages, among other changes.

Facebook will crack down on groups where members repeatedly share misleading content, show monthly changes to its public rulebook, and hold group admins “more accountable” for rule-breaking tied to their groups, the company announced on Wednesday, as part of its latest attempted assault on fake news and other misbehavior.

The Menlo Park, California tech giant held an event on Wednesday with reporters with its efforts around “integrity” – policing its social media and communications apps for hoaxes and misleading information.

The company has struggled to get a grip on misinformation for years, and has been intensely criticised over its failings to react quickly enough to content moderation challenges – often exacerbating highly politically charged events as a result. The social network helped spread hate speech and malicious misinformation that fuelled genocide in Myanmar, and a study found that during the 2016 US presidential election, the top fake news stories outperformed the top real news stories on the platform.

Wednesday’s announcements are the newest attempt from Facebook to try and solve some of these issues – and, in a climate of growing hostility towards tech and increasing talk of regulation, to signal to the world that it is engaging with the problems seriously.

There’s a slew of new changes, including:

  • Adding “Trust Indicators” to the context button that provides more information on posts in Facebook’s News Feed;
  • Putting verified badges in Messenger to cut down on scammers;
  • Letting users remove their content when they leave a Facebook group;
  • Expanding the content that the Associated Press will fact check in its partnership with Facebook, particularly on Spanish-language and video content;
  • and working with outside experts to devise other new ways to identify and curb misleading information.

Another notable change is Facebook is now taking into account what it calls the “click-gap” when assessing websites and their placement in its News Feed. This is essentially a measure of the difference in popularity a certain website is on Facebook, compared to the rest of the web.

If a new news site is linked to from Facebook unusually frequently compared to from other websites, it may suggest it’s low-quality or spammy, and will be ranked lower in the News Feed – a tacit acknowledgement that Facebook’s algorithm disproportionately surfaces objectionable content.

Facebook is also taking steps to make its photo-sharing app Instagram more family-friendly.

It will now take action against content that doesn’t actually violate any of its rules, but which is still controversial (like “sexually suggestive” material) – hiding this content from its Explore tab and hashtag pages. The move has already sparked concerns about its potential impact, with one Twitter user writing: “As always, this is going to disproportionately affect queer and trans folks, making it harder to find each other and hard for those who use it as a tool to make their living.”

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