In an increasingly connected world, the proliferation of fake news is one problem that’s not easy to solve. With billions having instant access to social media sites and the web, misinformation can spread quickly like wildfire.
This is the reason why two of the biggest sources of news, Google and Facebook, (fake or otherwise) have made strides in cracking down on sites and sources that promote misleading stories.
But are these companies doing enough to combat misinformation? Facebook, in particular, is under fire yet again for this one controversial policy against pages and sites that promote fake news.
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Facebook started as a way to connect people, not as a political pundit. Today it seems like everyone is talking politics on their timelines. Do you want to turn your feed back into a place to share life updates, post pictures and just relax? You’re about to be flooded with political posts as midterm elections approach. But you don’t have to be!
Fake news will not be banned
Facebook recently announced that it will not ban pages and sites that promote fake news simply because doing so will be against the principles of free speech.
Instead, the social media giant will demote the visibility of individual posts which are suspected to have non-factual or disputed information. According to Facebook, this demotion will translate to a loss of roughly about 80 percent of future views.
Facebook explained that these pages may have articles that are considered fake news by some, but in the company’s view, these posts can also be considered as a form of opinion or analysis.
Additionally, this means that despite Facebook’s current “fake news is not our friend” ad campaign, removing these kinds of posts will be “contrary to the basic principles of free speech.”
Instead, we demote individual posts etc. that are reported by FB users and rated as false by fact checkers. This means they lose around 80% of any future views. We also demote Pages and domains that repeatedly share false news.
— Facebook (@facebook) July 12, 2018
It’s quite interesting that this announcement came after a press event in New York last week where CNN reporter Oliver Darcy questioned the company’s decision of allowing Alex Jones’ conspiracy theory news site InfoWars on its platform.
Note: InfoWars is known for publishing numerous controversial stories including claims that the Sandy Hook massacre was staged, the moon landings were fake and 9/11 was a conspiracy. How popular is this page? Currently, the Infowars Facebook page has nearly a million followers.
If Facebook is serious about tackling the problem of online misinformation, Darcy asked, then why is the social media site allowing a site like InfoWars to maintain a Facebook page?
Fake news = A matter of opinion?
In response, Facebook’s Head of NewsFeed John Hegelman said that they do not take down “false news.”
“I guess just for being false that doesn’t violate the community standards,” Hegeman told CNN, “[InfoWars] has not violated something that would result in them being taken down.”
Hegelman admits that publishers often have very different points of views. He also believes that Facebook was created “to be a place where different people can have a voice. ”
Misinformation vs. free expression
In another statement sent to CNN, Facebook spokeswoman Lauren Svensson said the company is trying to “find the right balance between encouraging free expression and promoting a safe and authentic community.”
She added that although sharing fake news doesn’t violate Facebook’s Community Standards, they have various strategies in place to combat entities who repeatedly share false news.
Svensson also explained, “If content from a page or domain is repeatedly given a ‘false’ rating from our third-party fact-checkers, we remove their monetization and advertising privileges to cut off financial incentives, and dramatically reduce the distribution of all of their page-level or domain-level content on Facebook.”
Is it the right approach?
But what do you think? Is Facebook’s demotion strategy a sound compromise between freedom of speech and the battle against misinformation?
Or is this just another way for Facebook to keep a sizeable chunk of its user base engaged, fake news or no fake news? It makes us wonder – does Facebook want to have its cake and eat it, too? Drop us a comment!