A story by TechCrunch last week suggested that Facebook is “doing a terrible job” at being a media organization and should follow the lead of Google in fact-checking information in the news. According to the story, Facebook is failing to moderate the trending of fake or inaccurate stories,despite protests from the company that it is not in the news business. Facebook’s avoidance of such editorial duties has the unfortunate consequence of making it more likely that the ever-growing number of people who rely on it for a main news source are more likely to encounter fake news and share it themselves among their friends and family.
Facebook fake news
Did the fake North Dakota pipeline protest picture pop up in your Facebook feed last month? If you looked closer, it was really an image of the Woodstock music festival from 1969. Arkansas resident, Tyler Eldridge posted the photo as a hoax. It was shared over 350,000 times, and has “likely been viewed by many tens of millions.”
It’s now Facebook’s mission to “tackle fake news and improve the quality of information on social media”. The largest social media network in the world has been criticized in the past for spreading misinformation and hoaxes like the “pipeline protest” image. As a way to reduce human-bias in choosing which topics make it to the popular “Trending” feature, Facebook has increased the use of automation for selection.
Facebook and Twitter, along with a group of over 30 news and technology companies, have joined the First Draft Coalition (formed in 2015 with the help of Alphabet’s Google) in order to “promote news literacy among social media users, and launch a platform where members can verify questionable news stories.” That platform is expected to launch by the end of October.
People get most of the news online or social media
Why does the validity of news shared on social media matter? Because increasingly, a majority of us rely on such platforms to stay informed. A 2016 survey by Pew Research found that a “majority of U.S. adults – 62% – get news on social media.”
Pew found that the top three social media platforms where users are most likely to get news from are Reddit, Facebook and Twitter. While more Reddit users get news from Reddit than Facebook users get from Facebook, Facebook takes the cake in overall popularity; 44% of all U.S. adults get news from the social media giant.
So the next time you come across an outrageous or unbelievable story on social media, take a deep breath and pause before you click “share.” Typically, a quick news engine search can help you easily corroborate a hot story being shared on social media, or you might just encounter stories from other sources that debunk that trending item. For more persistent fake news items that seem to take on a life of their own, fact checking web sites such as Snopes.com can help ferret out fact from fiction with data and primary evidence that gives you peace of mind.
Don’t get duped by fake news on Facebook and help your less savvy friends and relatives understand that they shouldn’t believe everything they read on Facebook.