Facebook, Google, Wikipedia Take Steps to Fight Fake News

Leading Internet platforms have announced separate plans to combat fake news, hoaxes and the spread of misinformation. A security team at Facebook acknowledged the social media giant was used as a platform for misinformation during the 2016 U.S. presidential election, and has debuted new measures to mitigate the threat. Google is tweaking its search engine to prevent fake news and hoaxes from appearing in its top results. Wikipedia founder Jimmy Wales has his own plan to counter the spread of fake news via a new website.

TechCrunch reports on Facebook’s recently released report, penned by Facebook chief security officer Alex Stamos and Threat Intelligence team members Jen Weedon and William Nuland, admitting that its platform was used to create “a coordinated campaign … to spread misinformation during the 2016 U.S. election.”

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Putting Facebook’s security team in charge of fighting fake news is a major step. Among its plans are to collaborate with other organizations to educate users, undermine campaigns with a financial motivation, create new products to slow down the spread of fake news and alert users to “untrustworthy information.”

Facebook said most of the activity was not driven by bots, but “by coordinated people who are dedicated to operating inauthentic accounts.” The company said its new measures allowed it to “take action” against 30,000 fake accounts in France during that country’s election. Facebook also said evidence proved a coordinated and sophisticated campaign in the recent U.S. presidential election and that its findings didn’t contradict the director of National Intelligence’s assessment that Russian operatives were to blame.

The Wall Street Journal reports that Google is structurally changing how search works to “prevent sites peddling fake news, hoaxes and conspiracy theories from appearing in its top results.” Google gave few details but said it will “help surface more authoritative pages and demote low-quality content.” Google will also train the people who vet its search results to spot “low quality” sites and more easily flag inaccuracies.

Google vice president of engineering Ben Gomes reported that 0.25 percent of daily search queries bring up “offensive or clearly misleading” results. A month ago, Google also added a “Fact Check” tag on some results to show “whether or not the claims presented are true, false or somewhere in between.” In addition to its own evaluators, Google depends on over 100 organizations to fact check search results, and users who can tag “unexpected, inaccurate or offensive” results in autocompleted searches.

VentureBeat reports that, in 29 days, Wikipedia founder Jimmy Wales will debut a website, Wikitribune, that gathers professional journalists, volunteers and supporters to produce news articles. The site will be free to access and advertiser-free, relying on readers to fund it. The articles will list its sources, for complete transparency.

“The news is broken, but we’ve figured out how to fix it,” Wales said, pointing out that today’s advertiser-supported news sites depend on “clickbait” to attract viewers. “This is a problem because ads are cheap, competition for clicks is fierce and low-quality news sources are everywhere.” He added that social media networks confirm users’ biases by showing them what they want to see.

Related:
Can Facebook Fix Its Own Worst Bug?, The New York Times, 4/25/17
In Europe’s Election Season, Tech Vies to Fight Fake News, The New York Times, 5/1/17