Have you read about the morgue employee who fell asleep on the job and was accidentally cremated? Or what about Denzel Washington referring to former President Barack Obama as the "criminal-in-chief?" These things did not happen, nor did an NFL team declare bankruptcy over player's taking a knee in protest. These are examples of what we now refer to as fake news, and it is an ongoing problem for Facebook. In an effort to promote factual stories over fictional ones, Facebook announced a couple of changes.
The first and perhaps biggest one is that Facebook is moving away from the use of Disputed Flags to report fake news stories, and will instead push links to related articles to give news items more context.
"Academic research on correcting misinformation has shown that putting a strong image, like a red flag, next to an article may actually entrench deeply held beliefs—the opposite effect to what we intended. Related Articles, by contrast, are simply designed to give more context, which our research has shown is a more effective way to help people get to the facts. Indeed, we’ve found that when we show Related Articles next to a false news story, it leads to fewer shares than when the Disputed Flag is shown," Facebook Product Manager Tessa Lyons explained in a post.
The second change is an initiative to better understand how people decide whether information is accurate or not based on the sources they depend on. Lyons says this will not directly impact news items in the near-term, but over time, this analysis will help Facebook make improvements to how it handles stories.
While it may feel like an uphill battle, Facebook and other companies are under pressure to fight back against the proliferation of false news articles. Around this time last year, Standford published a study showing that students are easily fooled by such stories.
Fake news is not a new phenomenon, though it is certainly heightened in the era of social media. Facebook alone has more than 2 billion monthly active users. More than just an annoyance, the fear is that hoax news items can have an influence on people, whether it's related to their buying habits or how they vote during elections.
Hopefully Facebook's changes will result in less bogus news items filling up feeds