Facebook Starts to Educate Users on How to Spot Fake News

Facebook Inc. spent the months since the U.S. election grappling with its role in the spread of false information. Now, the world's largest social-networking platform is making good on its promise to educate users about fake news.

The next few times people on Facebook from 14 countries log on to their accounts, they'll see a prompt at the top of their news feeds asking them to view tips on how to spot a false story. Facebook suggests being skeptical about sensational-sounding headlines, checking for misspellings and awkward formatting, and spotting errors in web addresses to make sure a site isn't masquerading as a reputable news organization. 

After the election of President Donald Trump, Facebook Chief Executive Officer Mark Zuckerberg had to respond to critics who said that certain viral stories on the network—such as a false report saying that the pope had endorsed Trump—could have swayed the election. While they are pressing Facebook to take more responsibility for the spread of disinformation, that also raises questions whether Facebook should become an arbiter of truth. 

After initially downplaying Facebook's impact, Zuckerberg decided to rethink Facebook's responsibilities. He drafted an open letter in February that revised Facebook's mission to more proactively address issues such as misinformation and lack of civic engagement. 

Prompt on Facebook offering tips on spotting fake news.

Source: Facebook

"We know people want to see accurate information on Facebook—and so do we," Adam Mosseri, Facebook's vice president of news feed, wrote in a blog post. "False news and hoaxes are harmful to our community and make the world less informed."

The Menlo Park, California-based company worked with First Draft, a nonprofit journalistic coalition, to come up with its tips. It's the latest in a series of efforts by Facebook to work with reporters and news organizations to improve the distribution of information on its platform. Countries getting the fake news prompt include the United States, Germany, the U.K., Brazil and Mexico.

Misleading stories take advantage of some of the same qualities that help news go viral, such as surprising and emotional headlines that start conversations. The Facebook Journalism Project was established to work with the industry on media products. Facebook is also working on more ways to flag to users that a post may be false, for example by making it easier for the community to report misleading content. It's also relying on third parties to help guide product development in this area. 

By making fake news less popular on the social network, Facebook is seeking to reduce financial incentives for hoaxers by bringing them less web traffic, Mosseri said.

For more on the controversy over fake news and Facebook, check out our tech podcast Decrypted


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