To end the circulation of fake stories, Facebook has launched the much hyped crackdown initiative of tagging as “disputed” the stories deemed false by fact checking organizations. As yet, there is no indication whether this designation will directly impact how a story is handled by Facebook’s ranking algorithms. In theory, users will be less likely to share stories with the said tag, reducing their spread. However the effect may take a few days to kick in, giving plenty of time for a story to gain some momentum.
Stories flagged by Facebook users as ‘fake news’ are passed on to non-partisan third-party organisations for verification. To provide more clarity, the help page on Facebook includes a question “How is news marked as disputed on Facebook?” although it is yet unclear if the feature is available to everyone.
In the recent months, it has been noted that the so-called fake news debate cropped up in the final stages of the United States presidential election. (Visit our Facebook page for more information on this). If the fact-checkers agree that a story is misleading, it will be featured in News Feeds with a “disputed” tag, along with a link to shed light on why a corresponding article might be false.
Seeming as an obvious imperfection of a system that seems destined to fully satisfy precisely nobody, and in view of huge public pressure to tackle fake news, particularly from the political left, Facebook carries no real motivation to tell its readers what to believe. According to Venturebeat, “from a business perspective, this filtering of disputed stories could reduce user engagement among those who enjoy a steady flow of alternative facts”. This move has already invited scathing criticism from the right, potentially alienating a large chunk of Facebook users.
Facebook’s solution seems to be a bold compromise leaving both fact-checkers and free speech supporters unsatisfied. Instead of wondering what Facebook is doing about fake news, maybe we should ask why is a single website to decide what is and isn’t worth reading online.
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