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Facebook targets coordinated campaigns spreading fake news

The social media giant outlines the steps it's taking against organizations using fake news to distort political sentiment.

Facebook is ramping up its fight against fake news by targeting coordinate campaigns that spread falsehoods.
Dan Kitwood/Getty Images

Facebook is beefing up its attack on fake news by targeting coordinated campaigns aiming to use false information to sway political opinions on the social network.

Facebook has evolved into a forum for political debate in recent years, but some organizations have used the network to distort political sentiment for a specific geopolitical outcome, including during the recent elections in the US and France, Facebook said Thursday in a white paper (PDF). The social media giant said it has a responsibility to keep its community safe for authentic civic engagement, free from the influences of what it calls "information operations."

Facebook explained, "We have had to expand our security focus from traditional abusive behavior, such as account hacking, malware, spam and financial scams, to include more subtle and insidious forms of misuse, including attempts to manipulate civic discourse and deceive people."

The abundance of fake news on the internet in the lead-up to President Donald Trump's victory last year has become a hot-button issue, entangling tech giants like Facebook and Google. Numerous allegations say the fake news shared on the social networks helped Trump win.

Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg initially called such a suggestion "a pretty crazy idea," but 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.

Facebook identified three main components involved in an information operations campaign: targeted data collection, content creation and false amplification. The process Facebook described includes stealing and exposing information that's not public; spreading stories, false or real, to third parties through fake accounts; and fake accounts being coordinated to manipulate political discussion, such as amplifying some voices while repressing others.

"Sometimes these pages include legitimate and unrelated content, ostensibly to deflect from their purpose,'' Facebook said.

The company said machine learning is helping it weed out fake accounts by identifying patterns in behavior, such as repeated posting of the same content. Facebook cited these improvements as helping it identify and eliminate more than 30,000 fake accounts in France.

"Facebook sits at a critical juncture,'' the company said. "The reality is not everyone shares our vision, and some will seek to undermine it -- but we are in a position to help constructively shape the emerging information ecosystem by ensuring our platform remains a safe and secure environment for civic engagement.''

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