Over the last few months, the phrase ‘fake news’ has entered the international lexicon. Websites spreading hoax stories on social media posed a massive problem during the US presidential campaign, with fake political content spreading like wildfire – to the extent that there was more engagement with false stories than genuine news on Facebook around the election.
While co-founder Mark Zuckerberg initially said it was “a pretty crazy idea” that stories shared on Facebook could have swayed the outcome of the election, his organisation has faced serious criticism for not doing enough to combat the surge of fake news.
Now, Facebook has announced how it will weed out misinformation by introducing changes to news feeds.
In a statement published this week, the company said it is committed to “authentic communication” and is taking steps to prevent the spread of posts that are “misleading, sensational or spammy”.
The company is using new algorithms to boost authentic posts and make it less likely that false or sensationalised stories will appear on your news feed.
Techies at Facebook studied pages to identify which were likely to be posting fake news.
“We then used posts from these pages to train a model that continuously identifies whether posts from other pages are likely to be identified,” said the company.
“For example, if page posts are often being hidden by people reading them, that’s a signal it might not be authentic.”
The update may not prevent inaccurate stories from appearing in your news feed entirely, but it will prioritise them beneath posts from friends and family, as well as stories from reputable sources.
Trump has repeatedly painted himself as a victim of misinformation, attempted to discredit reliable media organisations that he dislikes, such as the New York Times and CNN, by calling them “fake news”.
Trump dismissed controversial allegations made about his relationship with Russia in much the same way, slamming the publication of an unverified dossier on Twitter as “FAKE NEWS – A TOTAL POLITICAL WITCH HUNT!”
However, the vast majority of the most popular hoax articles during the US election were actually pro-Trump and virulently anti-Hillary Clinton. An analysis by BuzzFeed News found that the two most popular headlines during the campaign were “Pope Francis Shocks World, Endorses Donald Trump” and “WikiLeaks CONFIRMS Hillary Sold Weapons to ISIS”.
Both of these fake articles received more engagement than the two most popular genuine articles, which were published by the Washington Post and Huffington Post.
Another BuzzFeed News investigation found that major right-wing pages on Facebook published false or misleading information significantly more frequently than left-wing pages. Crucially, the pages included in this analysis were not those of established news organisations – highlighting the importance of getting your information from a trusted source.
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