Facebook to crack down on fake news

Facebook has responded to increasing criticism over the spread of fake news on its platform by agreeing to introduce tools to tackle fictional news stories presented as fact.

The features are part of an ongoing process to refine and test how it deals with fake news. The social network company has faced complaints this year involving how it monitors and polices content produced by its 1.8 billion users.

The new tools will make it easier to flag fake articles on their News Feed and the company will also work with organisations such as fact-checking website Snopes, ABC News and the Associated Press to check the authenticity of stories.

If such organisations identify a story as fake, Facebook said it will get flagged as “disputed” and be linked to the corresponding article explaining why.

The company said disputed stories may appear lower in its news feed, adding that once a story is flagged, it cannot be promoted.

Facebook’s Chief Executive Mark Zuckerberg has disputed the idea that fake or misleading news helped to swing the election in favour of Republican Donald Trump.

Yet criticism persisted amid reports that people in the US and other countries have fabricated sensational hoaxes meant to appeal to conservatives.

Critics said fake news was often more widely read than news reported by major media organisations.

Ahead of 8 November, Facebook users saw fake news reports saying Pope Francis endorsed Trump and that a federal agent who had been investigating Democratic candidate Hillary Clinton was found dead.

The effort by Facebook is intended to focus on the “worst of the worst” of clear hoaxes created by “spammers for their own gain,” Adam Mosseri, Facebook’s vice president in charge of its News Feed, said in a blog post.

Some far-right conservative writers quickly pounced on the announcement, decrying it as a covert attempt to muzzle their legitimate content.

“Translation: A group of incredibly biased left-wing fake news outlets will bury dissenting opinions,” Paul Joseph Watson, editor-at-large of the far-right website Infowars, which routinely peddles unsubstantiated conspiracy theories, said on Twitter.

Facebook has struggled throughout the year to mollify conservatives who fear the company may be censoring them. The social network company fired contractors who managed the site’s trending news sidebar after a report by Gizmodo in May quoted an anonymous employee who claimed the site routinely suppressed conservative news.

The American election has also been beset with controversy surrounding the possibility that Russia used cyber-attacks to try and alter the result.

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