Facebook Takes Additional Steps in Battle Against Fake News

Facebook has donated $14 million to the News Integrity Initiative, established by Craigslist founder Craig Newmark to combat fake news. The project, which will be headed by Jeff Jarvis, will run out of the City University of New York’s journalism school. The move is just one of Facebook’s recent efforts to combat fake news. The company has also hired former CNN anchor Campbell Brown to lead its new Facebook Journalism Project, partnered with fact-checking sites to tag fake news, and published tips on how to identify it.

Wired finds fault with Facebook’s involvement with the News Integrity Initiative, charging that it “takes a lot of the blame for the trust crisis off Facebook’s shoulders and spreads it around to everyone, from ad networks to journalism itself.” Nonetheless, it notes, while Facebook’s membership in the initiative “may not act as Facebook’s tacit acknowledgment that it is a media company, it does show that Facebook feels at least some responsibility for the ecosystem.”

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“I do not think that the platforms are media companies, and I do not want them to be editors or censors of the world,” said Jarvis, who rather hopes to bring all involved players together “to figure out how everyone can help each other diminish the perception that the news is rigged.”

The difficulty, says Wired, is that Facebook, advertisers and users all define the platform differently, and surveys reveal that 60 percent of Americans get their news from social media sites like Facebook. As a result, media companies have had to “rethink the kinds of ‘content’ they create” (think adorable animals, baby photos and snarky jokes), and “it’s also invited opportunists who cater less to any journalistic ideal of truth-seeking than to Facebook’s algorithms.”

The 2016 presidential election led to a angst-filled critiques of Facebook and journalism. The News Integrity Initiative intends to focus on these problems, but has not yet set a path. Jarvis has yet to hire a manager and is still looking for collaborators. “What’s most needed now,” suggests Wired, “are ways to turn insights into action.”

Facebook is also alerting readers in the U.S. and 13 other countries to potentially false news by an alert above News Feed, reports TechCrunch. The alert links to Facebook’s Help Center and “Tips to Spot False News.” Facebook wrote these tips in concert with news standards nonprofit First Draft. Among the tips are to be skeptical of sensational headlines, check for phony URLs, investigate sources, watch for unusual formatting (and misspellings), watch out for inauthentic photos, inspect the dates, check the evidence, look at other reports, and determine whether the story is a joke or intentionally false.

TechCrunch notes that Facebook is now calling the problem “false news,” since the term “fake news” has been co-opted by President Trump to describe “any opinions or facts with which he disagrees.” But it believes that Facebook puts too much faith in its users to “exert lots of cognitive effort to detect false news” or even click on the link.