Fake news is still very much alive and well on the internet, with the ramifications of misinformation having impacts across the world.
The respected German newspaper, Der Spiegel, recently fired one its top reporters over a series of fake stories.
The major culprit in the spread of fake news is social media, particularly Facebook, and the company has been pouring investment into working with independent third parties to check the content that appears online since December 2016.
For the first time, Facebook’s fact-checking programme is coming to the UK, facilitated by the charity Full Fact.
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Fact-checkers at the organisation will now begin reviewing and rating the accuracy of content on the social platform. Facebook users can flag content they presume is false, which Full Fact’s team will check and review.
If you’ve shared a post which Full Fact later flags as fake, you will be informed and given the option to read more about the claim’s sources. Content considered fake will also be de-ranked by Facebook’s algorithm so it appears lower in the News Feed and doesn’t reach as many people.
The organisation says it will focus on reviewing and rating misinformation, which carries the most potential for harming people’s safety or undermining democratic processes. It lists instances focuses on dangerous cancer ‘cures’, false news spread in the wake of terror attacks, or fake content about voting ahead of elections.
It’s painstaking work to flag fake news. Full Fact’s founder and director Will Moy, said: “Fact-checking can take hours, days or weeks, so nobody has the time to properly check everything they see online. But it’s important somebody’s doing it because online misinformation, at its worst, can seriously damage people’s safety or health.”
As Full Fact is an independent charity, it is very transparent about the work it does, particularly for organisations like Facebook and Google for which it has received donations for work on specific projects. Full Fact says Facebook will have no control over what its team chooses to check, what they write or the ratings they give. In addition, Full Fact will not be given access to Facebook users’ private data for any reason.
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New research published this week has shown that people over the age of 65 are more likely to share fake news on Facebook than younger people. Researchers at New York University and Princeton studied the behaviour of Americans online before and after the 2016 US presidential election and found that 11 per cent of people aged 65 or over shared links to fake stories, compared to only 3 per cent of those aged 18-29.
Sharing a fake link online may seem like an honest mistake but it can have serious consequences. Up to 40 people are thought to have been killed in India after fake news surrounding alleged child abductors spread across WhatsApp in 2018, resulting in random and fatal attacks.
Full Fact’s work to prevent the spread of fake news on Facebook is surely welcomed.
Moy added: “There’s no magic pill to instantly cure the problem, but this is a step in the right direction. It will let us give Facebook users the information they need to scrutinise false or misleading stories themselves and hopefully limit their spread – without stopping them sharing anything they want to.”