Facebook dumps 'disputed flags' on fake news for context

Stung by criticism it helps spread false news reports, the social media giant is helping users fact-check stories with "Related Articles."

Steven Musil
Steven Musil Night Editor / News
Steven Musil is the night news editor at CNET News. He's been hooked on tech since learning BASIC in the late '70s. When not cleaning up after his daughter and son, Steven can be found pedaling around the San Francisco Bay Area. Before joining CNET in 2000, Steven spent 10 years at various Bay Area newspapers.
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2 min read

Facebook is making some modifications to how it combats fake news for its users.

The social networking giant said late Wednesday it would dispense with the Disputed Flag, a tool introduced a year ago to make it easier for Facebook users to identify hoax articles on their News Feeds. The company found that the image of the red Disputed Flag may have conveyed the wrong message to users, leading to inaccurate news reports being shared more often.

"Academic research on correcting misinformation has shown that putting a strong image, like a red flag, next to an article may actually entrench deeply held beliefs -- the opposite effect to what we intended," Tessa Lyons, a Facebook product manager, said in a statement.

Instead, Facebook is turning to a key component of meaningful journalism: context. Replacing the red flags will be a "Related Articles" section that presents reports from other news outlets that allow users to immediately fact-check stories that appear in their feed. The feature has been around since 2013, but Facebook began testing a new version in April, working with third-party fact-checking groups to vet stories.

The change comes as Facebook, Google and others face a barrage of criticism for letting sham articles circulate by way of their sites. During the 2016 US presidential election, a number of bogus articles made the rounds, including made-up stories like President Barack Obama banning the playing of the national anthem at US sporting events, and an FBI agent tied to the Hillary Clinton email scandal being found dead.

Some critics say the spread of stories like that on Facebook tipped the election, a charge Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg initially called "a pretty crazy idea." Facebook has since made it easier to report possible hoaxes, add warnings before you share a disputed article and downplay questionable stories in your news feed.

Also announced Wednesday is a Facebook initiative aiming to better understand how people decide whether information is accurate based on the news sources they depend on.

"This will not directly impact News Feed in the near term," Lyons said. "However, it may help us better measure our success in improving the quality of information on Facebook over time."

More on Facebook's fact-checking efforts in the video below:

How Facebook Addresses False News

Posted by Facebook on Wednesday, December 20, 2017

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