Facebook Attempts to Tackle Fake News

In the wake of a plethora of misleading or factually devoid articles masquerading as news made famous by the United States election this past year, Facebook has chosen to add a tag to articles which may fall under that category. With a high percentage of Internet users also being Facebook subscribers, the social media site decided to take counter measures to help stem the tide of sharing and spreading the stories which have caused such controversy as of late. They will do this by adding a tag which reads “disputed” by the posts themselves.

Mark Zuckerberg (Facebook Founder and CEO), had mentioned the implementation of something to this effect back in November, shortly after the unexpected Donald Trump victory over Hillary Clinton. Users will now be able to flag the story which they believe to be false, misleading, or from an unreliable source and third party fact checkers -and generally unbiased- will audit and either reject or verify the claim. If the fact checkers find that the story has no basis in fact, the post will receive a “Disputed” flag next to it.

This is an achievement to be proud of, without a doubt. However it does raise questions for me about how effective this will be at stopping the spread of misinformation. Firstly, how quickly will the fact checkers be able to review and verify the claims being made by Facebook users? While I’m sure parts of this would be able to be automated by having a human create some parameters for a computer to follow by having the computer review similar articles, how much of this requires human eyes?

If the seemingly endless sea of politically charged facebook posts all suddenly require an individual and third party audit, it may take some time for those audits to take place. Furthermore, the time -even if rather quick- that these reviews will take still leave open a gap where this misinformation does not have that “disputed” tag next to it. By the time that the story would be labeled, it very well may have already burrowed into the minds of its readers.

Another problematic facet of this entire issue is the choice of word here: “disputed.” Surely this may not go far enough, and only suggests that there is even a chance to debate whether some obviously false things have legitimate agency and access to discourse. Take for example a rather well accepted fact: The Earth is a Sphere. This fact has largely been shared in the public mind, but the flat earther movement is growing even now in 2017. I think, this is because the more other people see people actually debating this again. To relate back to Facebook if someone were to post a “The World is Flat” article, rather than read “disputed” next to it, surely it should be “demonstrably false.” In a world that favors a spectrum, some things need to be seen as binary.

The effectiveness of Facebook’s latest addition has yet to be seen, but I wonder if -even with all the good intention- this will just be another issue where people can look at a “disputed” tag and think “well then there must be two sides to this story.”

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