Facebook to tackle false news stories

  | James Innes

Amid rumours that fake news stories posted on Facebook influenced the results of the US election, the company has undertaken to do more to address the problem. Late on Saturday night, Founder and CEO Mark Zuckerberg posted on his Facebook profile: “Of all the content on Facebook, more than 99% of what people see is authentic. Only a very small amount is fake news and hoaxes. The hoaxes that do exist are not limited to one partisan view or even to politics. Overall this makes it extremely unlikely hoaxes changed the outcome of this election in one direction or another.”

“That said, we don’t want any hoaxes on Facebook”

However, the accusations remain, and are particularly pertinent in the US where 44% of all Americans claim to get their news from Facebook, which tailors the newsfeed its users see to what they, and their friends, have previously liked or shared. This makes Facebook prone to partisan stories which are easily spread, in some cases earning significant amount of advertising revenue for their creators.

Current president Barack Obama has raised concerns about Facebook’s role in spreading false information during the election, including a report claiming an FBI agent investigating Hillary Clinton’s use of a private email server had been killed.

Facebook has already launched initiatives encouraging users to flag hoaxes and false news, but acknowledges there is more to do. Their cautious approach, in part, is because they are reluctant to be seen as policing the content on their site. Some of their previous efforts in this area – such as the removal of an iconic photograph from the Vietnam War earlier this year – have been viewed as clumsy and backfired on them spectacularly. Zuckerberg commented: “This is an area where we must proceed very carefully. Identifying the “truth” is complicated. While some hoaxes can be completely debunked, a greater amount of content often gets the basic idea right but some details wrong or omitted.”

“I am confident we can find ways for our community to tell us what content is most meaningful, but we must be extremely cautious about becoming an arbiter of truth ourselves”.

However, the story has now taken a further twist with Buzzfeed News reporting on Monday that "more than dozens" of Facebook employees have created an unofficial task force dedicated to addressing the issues. Buzzfeed reported an unnamed source within the company who said: "Mark Zuckerberg knows, and those of us at the company know, that fake news ran wild on the platform during the entire campaign season".

Meanwhile, in a related development, Google has announced plans to prevent fake news sites from making money through advertising.






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