Facebook’s Fake News Problem and What You Can Do to Stop It

Post-truth was named word of the year by Oxford Dictionaries last week as the scramble to understand what exactly happened in the US election was at full steam. One argument being forwarded is that the proliferation of fake news on Facebook may have influenced the election’s result.

[scroll down if you just want to see the guide to reporting fake news]

 

As commentators took aim at Facebook, Mark Zuckerberg dismissed claims that the platform influenced the election as ‘crazy.’ Despite kicking back, Facebook and Google have since announced that they will introduce measures to curb the spread of misinformation. Some have welcomed the move while others worry that Facebook is becoming the editor of the internet.

Whether or not we agree that fake news was a determining factor in the US election, the fact remains that it exists, it’s everywhere and it’s a problem. Chief among the events, reporting and commentary in the last week are:

  • Buzzfeed’s report which demonstrated how fake news stories found more engagement on Facebook than real news in the leadup to the election
  • Another report from Buzzfeed about a group of young people in Macedonia who created a network of over 100 pro-Trump websites disseminating false content and cashing in on ad revenue
  • Communications professor, Melissa Zimdars, created a list of fake news, satire and clickbait-y sites for her journalism students in Google docs which was widely shared and was subsequently taken down and rewritten as a list of tips for analysing news sources
  • A browser extension that flags faux news for you, built by Brian Feldman from New York Magazine and based on Zimdars list
  • A confessional from a writer of bogus news who worries that he may have put Trump in the White House
  • President Obama spoke to reporters about fake news on Thursday saying “If we can’t discriminate between serious arguments and propaganda, then we have problems”

It is important also to ask questions about Facebook and Google’s decision to curb the spread of false content. Putting aside the complicated mess of how to decide what is and isn’t fake, these are large media empires (whether they are willing to admit it or not) and leaving it up to them to decide what is true and fake grants them, perhaps unprecedented, editorial power.