There has been a lot of discussion of late about fake news on Facebook.
Some folks believe fake news affected the outcome of the presidential election. One law professor recently told me that most of the stuff on Facebook was fabricated. It won’t be too long before I’ll be at conference where lawyers will be told to stear clear of Facebook because of hoaxes and fake news.
Big mistake. Less than one percent of news and information on Facebook is fake. That’s probably about the same as mainstream media.
Also not to be lost on you, as a lawyer, is that Facebook has almost 2 billion users, and that 44 percent of Americans get their news from the social network. If you’re not sharing information and commentary on Facebook you’re missing a huge opportunity.
I’m with Mark Zuckerberg who recently posted,
Of all the content on Facebook, more than 99% of what people see is authentic. Only a very small amount is fake news and hoaxes.
Having said that, Zuckerberg is looking to limit the fake news that there is and show people that they will find meaningful content and accurate news on Facebook.
Zuckerberg knows he must proceed carefully when you get into “the truth” and censorship, let alone Facebook’s desire to maintain its status as a technology company and avoid the responsibilities that come with being a media company.
Identifying the “truth” is complicated. While some hoaxes can be completely debunked, a greater amount of content, including from mainstream sources, often gets the basic idea right but some details wrong or omitted. An even greater volume of stories express an opinion that many will disagree with and flag as incorrect even when factual. I am confident we can find ways for our community to tell us what content is most meaningful, but I believe we must be extremely cautious about becoming arbiters of truth ourselves.
David Pogue, reports in Scientific American this week that Facebook has already taken action.
- If you tap the V button at the top right of a post and then choose “Report this post,” you’ll see a new option called “It’s a fake news story.” On the next screen, you’ll have a choice of options, including “Mark this post as fake news.” (Other options include “Message Chris Robin” [or whomever posted the story] to let them know they fell for it.)
- If enough people flag a story as fake, it will be sent to a fact-checking organization like Snopes.com or PolitiFact. And if the outfit determines that yes, the story is bogus, it will appear on Facebook with a red banner that says, “Disputed by Third-Party Fact Checkers.” That banner will include a link to the fact checkers’ article explaining why the story is false. The stories still appear, but with flags that identify them as phony and lower in your News Feed.
- Facebook will employ software and algorithms to help identify fake stories. For example, Facebook has learned that when lots of people read a certain article but then don’t share it, it’s often because the story is phony.
- Facebook is trying to shut down the financial incentive for fakers. Its engineers have eliminated the ability for the fakers to create Web sites that impersonate actual news sites, for example. And the company will analyze sites that draw ad dollars from Facebook traffic, and will cut them off if they’re in the business of fake-news fraud.
Though cynics argue that fake news generates eyeballs and ad revenue for Facebook, people use Facebook because of the value it brings to their lives. Value comes from accurate information and news — and the engagement that ensues.
Gaming a popular site is not without precedent. A whole SEO industry has sprung up to game Google in an effort to get Google users to visit third-party sites lacking valuable information. Through software and algorithms, Google reduced the junk to a minimum – enough so that the world uses Google as the leading source of information — including lawyers for a lot of legal research.
The above four steps are just a start, Facebook has the brightest social engineers in the world working for them. If anyone can eliminate fake news, they can.
How we receive news and information has changed dramatically in the last decade. Television news, newspapers and news websites carried the day five or six years.
Today, people receive news socially – from people they trust. Facebook, as the largest social network is likely to become the leading source of accurate news and information for Americans.