What did we do before Facebook? Thanks to the social-networking site, before you’ve even had your morning coffee, you can be up to date with all of the mundanities of your friends’ and friends’ friends’ lives. Facebook also offers great shopping suggestions: how about an elephant-shaped pillow or a new bikini? It keeps you up-to-date with the best the internet has to offer in the way of amusing cat videos. And, last week, Facebook announced it is now taking on the role of truthsayer by flagging up ‘fake news’ circulating on its network.
According to Facebook’s press release, users will now be able to report fake-news stories, and it has enlisted fact-checking organisations to ascertain the accuracy and truth of stories that users report. Articles determined to be ‘fake’ by fact-checkers will then be flagged, and a warning will pop up when users try to share them, along with a link to a page explaining the reasons for the flagging.
The announcement came following much criticism over Facebook’s role in disseminating fake-news stories during the US election. According to a recent poll carried out for Buzzfeed, fake-news headlines fooled Americans about 75 per cent of the time. A couple that did particularly well on Facebook were ‘Pope Francis Shocks World, Endorses Donald Trump for President, Releases Statement’ and ‘FBI Agent Suspected in Hillary Email Leaks Found Dead in Apparent Murder-Suicide’.
Commentators have argued that Facebook and similar sites must be ‘held accountable’ in the same way a media organisation would be. In Germany, the government is attempting to pass a law that would mean Facebook could be fined €500,000 per fake-news post. This has been proposed due to fears that fake news could affect the 2017 German elections.
Due to a high number of fake-news stories appearing to be pro-Trump, leading commentators are asking whether Facebook was partly responsible for Trump’s victory. In November, Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg rejected this idea, saying it was ‘extremely unlikely hoaxes changed the outcome of this election’. He also urged caution over Facebook ‘becoming arbiters of truth’.