Facebook’s Attempt to Combat Scam News Sites

Fake news is the current boogeyman occupying news headlines. Ironically, this boogeyman is being promoted by many organizations that produce fake news such as CNN, Fox News, and MSNBC. For the most part fake news isn’t harmful. In fact fake news, which was originally referred to as tabloids, has probably been around as long as real news. But fake news can be harmful when it’s used to scam individuals, which is a problem Facebook is looking to address:

A new suite of tools will allow independent fact checkers to investigate stories that Facebook users or algorithms have flagged as potentially fake. Stories will be mostly flagged based on user feedback. But Mosseri also noted that the company will investigate stories that become viral in suspicious ways, such as by using a misleading URL. The company is also going to flag stories that are shared less than normal. “We’ve found that if reading an article makes people significantly less likely to share it, that may be a sign that a story has misled people in some way,” Mosseri wrote.

Mosseri indicated that the company’s new efforts will only target scammers, not sites that push conspiracies like Pizzagate. “Fake news means a lot of different things to a lot of different people, but we are specifically focused on the worst of the worst—clear intentional hoaxes,” he told BuzzFeed. In other words, if a publisher genuinely believes fake news to be true, it will not be fact checked.

On the surface this doesn’t seem like a bad idea. I’ve seen quite a few people repost what they thought was a legitimate news article because the article was posted on a website that looked like CNBC and had a URL very close to CNBC but wasn’t actually CNBC. If you caught the slightly malformed URL you realized that the site was a scam.

However, I don’t have much faith in the method Facebook is using to judge whether an article is legitimate or not:

Once a story is flagged, it will go into a special queue that can only be accessed by signatories to the International Fact-Checkers Network Code of Principles, a project of nonprofit journalism organization Poynter. IFCN Code of Principles signatories in the U.S. will review the flagged stories for accuracy. If the signatory decides the story is fake news, a “disputed” warning will appear on the story in News Feed. The warning will also pop up when you share the story.

I don’t particularly trust many of the IFCN signatories. Websites such as FactCheck.org and Snopes have a very hit or miss record when it comes to fact checking. And I especially don’t trust nonprofit organizations. Any organization that claims that it doesn’t want to make a profit is suspect because, let’s face it, everybody wants to make a profit (although it may not necessarily be a monetary profit).

Either way, it’ll be interesting to see if Facebook’s tactic works for reducing the spread of outright scam sites.