Facebook Announces Its Pilot Plans To 'Deal' With Fake News — Not With Censorship, But With More Info

from the not-a-bad-idea dept

Facebook is now taking clear steps to try to address what some are calling its “fake news” problem. As someone who has argued that the fuss over this is massively overhyped and misleading, I actually find Facebook’s steps here to be fairly sensible, and not a cause for concern — but let’s dig into the details.

We’ve made it clear that we think that people freaking out about fake news on Facebook are overreacting, when they try to “blame” the results of the election, or even how people feel about certain candidates on Facebook. And, we’ve also warned that the end result of much of the complaining is inevitable calls for censorship, which is dangerous. In fact, we’ve already seen that both China and Iran are using the hubbub over “fake news” to justify their own draconian censorship and surveillance efforts.

But, that doesn’t mean that Facebook should do nothing about it. “Fake news” is unlikely to be influencing the election, but that doesn’t mean it’s not a nuisance — though, if we’re going to talk about “fake news” at the very least we should divide it into more accurate subgroupings: there’s outright made up false news, there’s propaganda (those first two can overlap, admittedly), there’s erroneous (but well-intentioned) reporting and then there’s actually good reporting that people dislike. That last one some may argue is not fake news, but trust me when I say that some people are using this “fake news” storm to lump in those kinds of articles too — which does a good job of showing why the label “fake news” is a real risk of being abused for censorship.

As for Facebook’s actual approach, it appears to take some of the suggestions many have made over the last month or so, and starts to implement some tests to see how good a job they do in real life. The plan is not one based on censorship, but more about providing individuals with more information. There’s certainly still the possibility of abuse here, but the initial implementation does seem reasonable. Here are the key changes:

  • Making it easier for users to “report” hoax stories. This has been available within Facebook’s system already but it’s pretty buried, and apparently not widely used. This is very much targeted at purely 100% fake stories, things that were made up solely for clicks, but the real challenge will be to see how it handles vote brigading by people who, say, want to attack a particular article from another bucket described above. In the end, it’s likely that some users will be unhappy about this, especially if they attack a story that they disagree with, but which is factually accurate, and Facebook doesn’t agree with their assessment.
  • Partnering with fact checking organizations to help flag “disputed” stories. Facebook says that it will use the user-flagging (along with the black box known as “other signals”) to alert a number of third party fact checking organizations to look into stories that reach a certain threshold of flagging:

    We’ll use the reports from our community, along with other signals, to send stories to these organizations. If the fact checking organizations identify a story as fake, it will get flagged as disputed and there will be a link to the corresponding article explaining why. Stories that have been disputed will also appear lower in News Feed.

    It will still be possible to share these stories, but you will see a warning that the story has been disputed as you share. Once a story is flagged, it can’t be made into an ad and promoted, either.

    Again, this seems reasonable, and should be common (in a slightly different format…) to the way some subreddits use a “disputed” flag. Instead of blocking the content, more information is provided, including links to third party sources that people can check out, and such stories are less likely to appear at the top of the algorithmic feed. This, of course, will also make some people nervous, and you can already predict the viral reaction that’s going to shoot around the internet the second some stories get hit with the “disputed” flag. We’ve already seen lots of claims in our comments from people who don’t trust fact checking organizations, and so it’s likely that there will be some anger over some of these decisions. Overall, though, this seems like a good solution.

    I’ve also been told that eventually (perhaps not immediately) if someone goes to share a link that’s been hit with the “disputed” flag, the user will get a prompt, just making sure they recognize it’s disputed and making sure they really still want to share it. This seems like a reasonable approach — one that involves providing more information, rather than jumping straight to “blocking” information.

  • New signals of what’s hoax content: Above I mentioned that some of this is a black box, but it looks like one signal that Facebook will now be using is seeing if people actually go and read an article, and don’t share it, compared to those who just share it without reading it first:

    We’ve found that if reading an article makes people significantly less likely to share it, that may be a sign that a story has misled people in some way. We’re going to test incorporating this signal into ranking, specifically for articles that are outliers, where people who read the article are significantly less likely to share it.

    It would be fascinating to see the data on this. It makes sense, but I do wonder how clear and obvious the different sharing rates are on that particular signal.

  • No boosting/promoting spam content: This one seems to just be a version of what Facebook already announced last month. But it looks like they’re going a bit further in trying to just stop the pure 100% hoaxers-in-it-for-the-money sites from being able to totally overrun Facebook news feeds:

    On the buying side we’ve eliminated the ability to spoof domains, which will reduce the prevalence of sites that pretend to be real publications. On the publisher side, we are analyzing publisher sites to detect where policy enforcement actions might be necessary.

    Again, this is a case where how this is actually done is going to matter a lot. However, it does seem that Facebook is suffiiciently concerned about being seen as putting its hands too heavily on the scales, and it seems likely that the company will really target this kind of action only towards the pure spammers. Otherwise, it’s likely to face backlash.

One thing that the company is also making clear is that it’s testing all of these things to see how they work — and they could change. I’m still nervous about the possibility for any such systems to be abused, but the approach here seems to be pretty reasonable from a first glance — and set up in a way that if it’s not reasonable, there will be pretty quick public backlash.

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Comments on “Facebook Announces Its Pilot Plans To 'Deal' With Fake News — Not With Censorship, But With More Info”

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CrushU (profile) says:

Cautiously Optimistic

I’m in general agreement with you, that trying to block or prevent speech is generally worse than just putting out more speech.

I feel that nowhere is this more obvious than with ‘Fake News’ stories. Whenever there is something that’s legitimately false, solving that problem is by stating that it’s false, and why it’s false.

I only use the ‘Fake News’ definition associated with 100% factually untrue information.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re: Cautiously Optimistic

None of those are actually a matter of fact.
Designating anyone with a sticker that conflates an action with a persona: You are not a criminal, you committed a crime/s. You are not a liar, you told a lie/s. You are not a racist, you said something racistic.
Furthermore you need to define a crime, a lie and speech as racistic.

As soon as you start digging, pure made up stories will make up facts or much more commonly present rumours as true (which is very easy when the rumours concern something shrouded in opacity. Be aware that any unnamed source is rumour!). Propaganda is based on facts or rumours (though only facts that collaborate a “greater” framing), thus would not fall on account of the facts per se. But can get spotted and questioned on their omissions/bias. Erroneous is likely the easiest to spot and in this day and age it is also the easiest to correct…

Thad (user link) says:

Re: Re: Re: Cautiously Optimistic

Designating anyone with a sticker that conflates an action with a persona: You are not a criminal, you committed a crime/s. You are not a liar, you told a lie/s.

Well, kind of. If you tell a lie, you’re a liar, and if you commit a crime, you’re a criminal; those are the literal definitions of those words. But those words carry a judgemental connotation. I think most people can acknowledge that there are times when lying or committing a crime is an ethical thing to do.

And it gets more complicated than that, since not all falsehoods are lies and not all illegal acts are crimes.

Eldakka (profile) says:

Re: Re: Re:2 Cautiously Optimistic

not all falsehoods are lies and not all illegal acts are crimes.

It could just be an issue of semantics, e.g. using casual ‘pub talk’ definitions of words and concepts vs strict dictionary definitions vs profession-specific (e.g. legal dictionary vs English dictionary), but could you expand on what you mean by that? AFAIK, a falsehood is a lie, and illegal acts are crimes.

R.H. (profile) says:

Re: Re: Re:3 Cautiously Optimistic

An example of a falsehood that is not a lie is simple, if I believe something to be true and state that thing as a fact but it turns out to be false, I have made a false statement but I haven’t lied. Lying requires intent to deceive but, that’s just semantics.

The second one is harder, but not impossible to imagine. Homicide is an illegal act however, there are situations wherein homicide is not a crime. Self-defense is one such situation you’ll find enshrined in the law almost anywhere.

Eldakka (profile) says:

Re: Re: Re:4 Cautiously Optimistic

OK, it is a semantics thing.

On the falsehood hood, I’m torn (without referring to a dictionary – too easy), but I’ll accept that a "falsehood" is stating something that’s false, and can be whether you know it or not, whereas a lie is always knowingly stating a falsehood. But, tbh that’s not how I’d use it, to me, both the phrases "stating a falsehood" and "lieing" are synonyms, mean the same thing.

For example, if I lend a box full of sheets to a friend, and that friend returns the box, but with a little extra, say a kilogram of coke in it, but I don’t open the box, I just take it back and stick it in my hallway cupboard, in common vernacular someone might say I was in possession of a kg of coke. And, if I said I was not in possession of the coke, under your reasoning I’d have stated a falsehood.

However, under the law, since I wasn’t aware of the coke in the box, then legally I would not be in possession of the coke, for purposes of charges relating to "being in possession of". Therefore it would not be a falsehood, or lie, to say I wasn’t in possession.

However, in the second case, I cannot agree.

A criminal is someone who has been found guilty of a crime in a court of law.

If you are charged with homicide, and the jury verdict is not guilty (e.g. self-defense), then you have not committed a crime. And, by definition, you have not committed an illegal act.

If you have justification for breaching the letter of the law (killing someone, but it was self-defense) then you have not committed an illegal act.

It is up to the courts to determine the illegality, or not, of an act, not the police or the DA’s office. They arrest and prosecute someone on suspicion of committing an illegal act, but the courts are the ones who decide whether you have or have-not committed the illegal act. And if they do not convict (not guilty, not proven, hung jury, mistrial, whatever the phrasing used that isn’t "guilty"), then you have not committed a criminal act, therefore you have not committed a crime.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re: Re:2 Cautiously Optimistic

There is certainly a level of subjectivity in the assertions. However, for you to be able to judge you have to look at the action and not the person. Which is unfortunately commonly omitted in todays way of communicating.

Also, I would generally object to liar and criminal since they all too often will define a person by a single action, but I guess that is covered by judgemental, you criminal! 🙂

CrushU (profile) says:

Re: Re: Cautiously Optimistic

Option A: Provide sources to back this up; things they said or did that were racist.

Option B: They both are, by the strict definition of the word, because everyone is, by the strict definition of the word.

Corollary: Whether or not they are racist is not possible to be ‘fake news’, because whether someone is racist or not is a matter of opinion and inherently subjective. You can, however, state that they did at some point, and that thing is objective and verifiable and falls under this policy.

Basically, trying to cut through all the ‘but he didn’t say/do that!’ objections at once. (Or the opposite, proving that he did say/do that thing.)

Anonymous Coward says:

* Partnering with fact checking organizations to help flag “disputed” stories

The partnering with fact checking organizations is the aspect I would like to see more concrete detail regarding. During this 2016 election cycle we saw an uptick in sources referring to themselves as fact checking service tipping scales toward one candidate or the other. These services have become subjective opinion in many cases.

Would be nice to have some form of ‘Prove it’ source where primary claims in an article can be summarized, and evidence backing the claim collected / assessed. Basically save readers the time to filter out the claims and quickly direct to evidence out there backing the claims. Try to take some of the middle man opinion out of it.

That Anonymous Coward (profile) says:

Step 1 – Is it posted on a known fake news site?
If they are talking about the lizard aliens having taken over the country…

Step 2 – Are any of the main terms featured in other stories people are linking to?

Add a button that suggests taking it with a grain of salt, perhaps populates the headline into a google search so users can see if its 4 “news” sites or all over the web.

People are lazy & if the fake story supports their narrative, they will swear it is gospel. If there is a button that you can hit to run it past Snopes for fact checking they might press it.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re:

If there is a button that you can hit to run it past Snopes for fact checking they might press it.

I genuinely wish it could be this easy…sadly though, most readers are not just lazy – they actually want what they read to be true, regardless as to what the facts are.

This is compounded by what is perceived as "bias" – since for every story, there MUST be a counter story. The days of "one’s more full of shit than the other" have been replaced with "yeah? well you’re biased since you’re also not talking about insert irrelevant point here"

Thad (user link) says:

Re: Re: Re: Re:

No, Anon, see, this is exactly what we are talking about.

Snopes = an actual, citable authority, with a well-established reputation.

Google = a search engine which catalogs what literally everybody says on the Internet.

In terms of citing a source for information, "You can find it on Google" is no more or less meaningful than "A guy told me this at the bus station." The barrier for entry to getting something you say to appear in a Google search is as follows:

  1. Say something on the Internet
  2. on a site that does not have a robots.txt explicitly preventing it from being indexed by Google.
  3. There is no number 3.

Just because you can find somebody saying something on Google does not make it true. You can Google illuminati mind control jfk assassination, or moon landing faked, or go-bots are better than transformers, and get a ton of results — but that doesn’t make them true.

Hell, this conversation we’re having, right now? It’s going to be indexed on Google. Did I just blow your mind?

So, you want to argue that Snopes is wrong and biased? Cite a source. Google is not a source, it is a search engine. YouTube is not a source, it is a video-sharing site. Facebook is not a source, it is a social networking site. If you have solid evidence of Snopes making false statements to advance a partisan political agenda, then share it with the class. Don’t just tell us you heard it from some guy at the bus station.

Thad (user link) says:

Re: Re: Re:5 Re:

So, to review:

Number of examples you have provided to support your point: zero.

Number of sources you have cited that corroborate your point: zero.

Amount of evidence you have provided in support of the claim you are making: none.

Hang on, let me count again and make sure I got those numbers right.

…yep. Zero, zero, none.

In conclusion: I don’t care what the man at the bus station told you, Transformers are better than Go-Bots.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re: Re:6 Re:

Yes, lets review. I checked into issues years ago and did not keep my findings for the great and mighty Thad. But you proceed to know all things for all people for all times. Thus proving for the 3rd time why moderation/censorship doesn’t work. But please do keep making my point, you are at least good at that.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re: Re:8 Re:

You are proving that curating thr news is going impossible. You have declared in your infinite wisdom that Snopes is a true beacon of light in a dark world. The fact that there are over 500,000 results when you Google “snopes is wrong” is lost in you. You also ignore those here disagree with you. 3rd proving there are no unbiased advisers of truth.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re: Re:9 Re:

And yet, out of those 500,000 results, you cannot (or more accurately will not) post any concrete evidence other than a Google search number.

Here’s a little something for you…if you type “Donald Trump is a liar” you get 8,850,000 results.

If you type “Snopes is right” you get 1,020,000 results. Twice as many as “Snopes is wrong”

What else do you have other than Google search numbers to argue with?

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re: Re:14 Re:

How do not understand I didn’t keep stuff from years ago just for you? How is it there are over half a million people feel strongly enough to write an article on the web ( much less countless more who didn’t write anything) Not enough to indicate a problem?

If you choose to believe any single source on anything then I don’t really know what to say.

Derek Kerton (profile) says:

Re: Re: Re:9 Re:

Anonymous, you write

“You have declared in your infinite wisdom that Snopes is a true beacon of light in a dark world.”

While Thad did say that at first, that is NOT what he is arguing with you at all. He appears to be entirely willing to consider ANY EVIDENCE you provide to the contrary.

His argument IS that without any citation or example, we can discount your claim.

Thad also clarified for you how your citation of “look it up on Google” is worthless, as Google is not a source.

You have written NOTHING to refute Thad. You just got angry and told him he’s the problem, and a “keyboard warrior”. (Which sounds super cool.)

Listen, you don’t have to spend your time arguing here. You don’t have to give Thad the proof he wants. But if you’re going to stick around and argue, then you should do so in earnest.

Thad (user link) says:

Re: Re: Re:7 Re:

Put another way: Snopes is a trustworthy source for exactly the same reason that you aren’t: it shows its work. It cites sources and tells people where it got its information, so they can go confirm for themselves.

It doesn’t pull the kind of nonsense that you’ve been pulling all thread. I’ve never seen a Snopes article cite, as its source, "Go do a Google search." I’ve never seen a Snopes article close with "We totally looked this up six years ago but then the dog ate our homework."

And when Snopes doesn’t have definitive sources it can cite, it’s got the balls to say so, instead of trying to bluff its way through without any evidence.

Seriously, dude, who do you think you’re fooling?

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re: Re:7 Re:

Uh no, I have researched a couple things in the past and found they were wrong and have written them off since.

How convenient of you to forget when trying to make such a significant point.

Congratulations on pointing out the problem – "Snopes is wrong, but I have conveniently forgotten why."

But please do keep making my point, you are at least good at that.

And what point is that? When confronted with "prove it" you come back with "no – you prove me wrong"

Great, let’s put that "point" to the test – your research on Snopes is flawed. Now go prove me wrong.

Anonymous Coward says:

To much strong disagreement to identify "real" "fake" news

With the state of politics these days, people on one side will just flag anything positive about the other side or negative about their side as fake news. I am doubtful community moderation will work. The side with the most supporters will win. It is worth a shot though but someone will need to measure the results without bias to know if it really works. Finding people without a strong bias is getting hard to do.

Thad (user link) says:

Re: To much strong disagreement to identify "real" "fake" news

It doesn’t appear to be pure community moderation, though; it looks as if the community can flag an article for review, but that community votes don’t make the final decision on what does or doesn’t get flagged.

There’s still an inherent problem that the most controversial stories will get the most attention and less-controversial ones will slip by unnoticed — but that’s always going to be the case, by definition.

Derek Kerton (profile) says:

Re: Global Warming

That is a good case in point.

That news is absolutely NOT, fake, and I bet even you will agree with me in a minute.

1 – Do you agree that scientists and climatologists with degrees, pedigree, and working for real research institutions and universities are studying climate?

2 – Do you agree that these climatologists are producing lengthy, detailed research reports with data that support some conclusion, whether they are telling the truth, or even if they are lying?

3 – Do you agree that some substantial portion of the have concluded in their research that climate change is real and caused by human activity?

4 – Do you agree that those researchers publish their work, and seek publicity, interest, and newsworthiness in their findings?

OK, so, now, if a news reporter reports on this research stating what the researcher’s credentials are, and summarizing the findings, is the news fake? No. The news is real. It is truthfully reporting the findings of the research of an accredited climate scientist.

You may think the scientist is lying, but the news isn’t.

Oh, and you’re wrong. I hope a climate scientist shows up at your job and tells you you suck at it and you’re lying. The kind of conspiracy you guys propose exists is impossible to set up, and even less possible to conceal. Climate scientists are smart, educated people. They don’t need to work/study climate change. If it were fake, they would not NEED to fake it to have a job. They would easily find some other job in the sciences. These are curious people that follow their interests. None of them want to waste their short career/life working on something fake.

Wendy Cockcroft (user link) says:

Re: Re: Global Warming

Actually if you watch Ice Road Truckers, you find these people are at the coalface of climate change; it actually affects their ability to do their jobs safely. So even if you never bother to pay attention to scientific research, take a look at how climate change affects the people who live and work in the disputed zones.

If there wasn’t any climate change, the ice would be thicker and safer to drive on.

If climate change is not being caused by us, what is it being caused by? Once you eliminate the other suspects, we are the only ones left.

That volcanoes, etc., spew greenhouse gases into the atmosphere is true, but since we are also doing this we’re making things worse.

Anonymous Coward says:

The election is over Mike. Quit trying to turn the world on it’s head to sanitize Hillary’s use of the media to spread one lie and falsehood after the other. She’s going to pay for all of the things she has done, and if not in a court of law, it’s going to happen in the street, or on one of her walks, or one way or another. Her ass is going to pay dearly.

GEMont (profile) says:

Easy as pie.

Criminal Political Scams are so pathetically unimaginative, that only a nation with its head up its ass could possibly not notice that the same old routine is being used again, and again, and again, and they just keep on falling for it.

Want marijuana laws that will keep pot from being studied and allow big pharma to keep on selling shit as shinola?

Easy as pie. Just start telling everyone that pot kills babies, or some such stupid BS and then follow it up with tons of dead baby stories. Have all your cops add a pot charge to every perp they process, in return for extra holidays. Print huge BS stories in every fascist paper about how pot is destroying the youth and future of America. In other words, CREATE the problem you want to legislate against.

As in – want to legislate (purportedly) against independent journalists who have been ruining your other scams by investigating your Official Bullshit and reporting on their findings?

Easy as pie. Start a campaign claiming that Fake News is responsible for “whatever” and then run with it till people believe its real. Have the Press a Dent go on TV and tell everyone that “Yes Russia screwed our election, and we have proof. However, we cannot show you that proof as it would – wait for it – “Compromise the Investigative Techniques used to gather that evidence and allow the enemies of America to avoid those techniques in future.”

Sound familiar yet.

Or how about elections themselves?

Want to make it difficult for the portion of the population that would vote against your party, to actually vote at all?

Easy as pie. Start printing stories about Voter Fraud. In no time at all, you’ll have legislative tools in place that will let you disenfranchise more than half the population, insuring that almost all the votes cast are by your voters only.

Once the crooks have taken over the “law”, it then behooves them to make it work for themselves – profitably. This they have been doing regularly since the 9/11 coup, using the same tired but 100% effective method.

This method of creating a problem so that you can force legislation into existence that appears to be designed to solve the “problem” – but which is actually legislation that can be used to eliminate enemies, competition, or those who can see thru the BS – has worked flawlessly every time.

Some day, it is hoped, Americans will “look up”, forcing them to pull their heads out of their ass-holes, long enough to read the writing on the wall.

It is however, not recommended that you hold your breathe in anticipation of such an unlikely event.

GEMont (user link) says:

Re: Re:

“‘Fake news’ will lead to censorship of inconvenient news”

Only if the media is not owned by the same folks who profit from the chaos created through the public dissemination of misinformation.

That is not the case currently.

Of course, if you include cherry picking certain facts while leaving out “inconvenient” others, as part and parcel of “censorship”, then I’d say your warning, while quite correct, is about 50 years too late. 🙂

GEMont (profile) says:

Easy as Pie 2

You know, I’ll bet if you really put your minds to it, many of you could come up with a list of other Scam Laws.

You know what I mean: laws that have been created by politicians and corporations through the use of phoney crisis – drugs, terrorists, cyberwar, etc. – that are broadcast repeatedly by the Truth Free Press, over the last few years, which turned out later to be used for the exact opposite reasons that were given for their necessity.

A single example should explain what I mean:

Asset Forfeiture Laws

Supposed to be used to reduce criminal income from drug proceeds, but used instead to steal property and enrich cops. Apparently the cops stole more american property last year than the criminals did.

With a little effort, I’m sure a huge number of these Scam Laws can be listed, once you realise the pattern of the scam and the purpose of the process.

Unless, of course, you want to just keep on pretending that its all just a coincidence… in which case, never mind.

mb (profile) says:

Critical Thinking Popup

How about a popup, when sharing an article, the requires the user to pass a comprehension an critical thinking test. The user must answer 3 questions about the article, and state whether or not the article actually cites and valid sources. Before sharing, facebook should require that the user also provide links to 3 other sources that corroborate and validate the news.

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