Facebook Looks for New Approaches to the Fake News Problem

April 4, 2017 - 3 minutes read

Merriam-Webster’s word of the year for 2016 was “surreal.” The Oxford English Dictionary went with “post-truth.” The Australian Macquarie Dictionary settled on “fake news.” No matter what term social media app developers prefer to use to define it, 2016 was the year that the conspiracies, propaganda, and outright hooey that used to be the purview of paranoid uncles seeped into the mainstream thanks in large part to social media. After Donald Trump’s shocking win in the presidential race, many dispirited citizens began to wonder how much of a role fake news played in his victory, especially given Trump’s unprecedented willingness to leverage misinformation.

As any mobile app developer will tell you, Facebook is fake news central in this highly polarized political moment. Although Mark Zuckerberg initially dismissed the site’s role in swaying the election, it’s become increasingly clear that what is now the largest news platform on the planet has to accept some culpability and take action against the flood of false reports. Along with Mozilla, Craigslist founder Craig Newmark, the Knight Foundation, the City University of New York (CUNY), and various other tech companies and non-profits, Facebook is launching the $14 million News Integrity Initiative to combat the fake news epidemic. The goal is to improve the public’s news literacy by consulting media experts and funding research projects into how the public takes in and shares news online. “The bottom line is to find ways to improve the public conversation and figure out why things spread the way they do,” according to CUNY journalism professor Jeff Jarvis, who is serving as one of the project’s leaders.

Facebook has taken other steps since last November to adapt to the post-truth age it helped shape, including partnering with fact-checkers to flag disputed stories, simplifying hoax reporting, and rolling out its ambitious Facebook Journalism Project in January. Perhaps motivated by his own oft-rumored political ambitions, Zuckerberg is taking responsibility for his creation’s part in the dissemination of the dangerous nonsense destabilizing our political discourse. Facebook has already fundamentally restructured the way people get their news; now Bay Area app developers are waiting to see if it can follow through on these initiatives and change the way we get our news once again.

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