Facebook’s fight against fake news sees new German feature

16 Jan 2017

Facebook. Image: AlesiaKan/Shutterstock

The thirst to tackle ‘fake news’ circulating on social media has seen both states and companies vow to fight back. Facebook is taking it very seriously indeed.

Just before Christmas, it emerged that Germany was getting tough on fake news, with social media under direct attack.

Germany’s coalition government threatened to bring in legislation early this year that would fine Facebook and other social media players up to €500,000 if the dodgy reports were not removed.

It seems that financial threats work, as Facebook has acted quite fast on this one, following previous efforts in December.

Partnering up with Berlin-based Correctiv, a non-profit news organisation, Facebook will allow users to flag news items as fake. The story will be sent to Correctiv to determine its legitimacy.

If it’s deemed false, it will be marked as ‘disputed’, which will be flagged to users before they read it. The stories will also be buried lower in Facebook’s news feed algorithm.

“Last month, we announced measures to tackle the challenge of fake news on Facebook,” the company said. “We will put these updates in place in Germany in the coming weeks.”

The subject of fake news has arisen in the aftermath of the US elections that saw Trump win a shock victory to become president-elect of the United States and UK voters opting to Brexit the EU.

Fake news is being blamed for manipulating voters in each case. It is also believed Russian hackers played a key role in the Wikileaks revelations that turned voters against Hillary Clinton.

Of course, this is hardly a modern phenomenon. In 1938, for example, Orson Welles stood in front of a mic in a radio studio in the US and presented a version of HG Wells’s War of the Worlds, with subsequent reports of widespread panic as listeners were suckered into thinking aliens were attacking Earth.

Late last year, Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg wrote of the complexity behind policing the veracity of news, claiming Facebook is not the “arbiter of truth”.

“We believe in giving people a voice, which means erring on the side of letting people share what they want, whenever possible,” he said. “We need to be careful not to discourage sharing of opinions or to mistakenly restrict accurate content.”

However, enough pressure was put on the company to act. Should the German model work, we can expect a similar, gradual, global roll-out.

The German case will be particularly interesting following a recent BuzzFeed article citing fake news about the country’s chancellor Angela Merkel, who is seeking re-election.

Fears are spreading, with the UK to discuss the topic in parliament soon, too.

Facebook. Image: AlesiaKan/Shutterstock

Gordon Hunt was a journalist with Silicon Republic