Ah, Facebook – the 21st century platform that so perfectly embodies all of our human failings: boastfulness, narcissism, the stalking of former lovers. It can bring joy (the validation of receiving more than 50 likes for a post); it can bring guilt trips (‘If you care about this disease, you will post this for 24 hours. I know my friends will…’); and envy (holiday snaps). Facebook is constantly evolving to find new ways to add to the already myriad ways in which it annoys its users. The latest was announced last week.
A prompt titled ‘How to spot fake news’ is set to appear at the top of users’ newsfeeds. The prompt offers 10 tips for spotting fake news, which include looking out for spelling errors (that’s the Grauniad finished then), being sceptical of headlines, and asking yourself the question: ‘Is the story a joke?’ Yes, Facebook users can now look forward to being patronised by the social network that brought them the online ‘poke’.
Adam Mosseri, head of Facebook’s newsfeed, says: ‘False news is harmful to our community, it makes the world less informed, and it erodes trust.’ Mosseri has described the fake-news measure as ‘an educational tool to help people spot false news’, suggesting Facebook believes it should play a role in educating people. Indeed, the introduction of an ‘educational tool’ implies Facebook doesn’t trust its users to identify for themselves what is fake and what is real.
Facebook’s move was inevitable given the hysteria about fake news from political and media elites. After Donald Trump won the US election last year, his adversaries were quick to point the finger at social media and online search engines for disseminating false stories – like the now infamous ‘Pizzagate’ story that falsely accused Hillary Clinton of being part of a paedophile ring operating out of a pizza restaurant.
It came as no surprise that, on Friday, Google also made an announcement about fake news. It is introducing a new product, Fact Check, which will be available under ‘Search’ and ‘News’. It will identify which stories have been verified by fact-checking organisations or by reputable news publishers. Google won’t be doing the fact-checking itself – instead results will show stories that have been verified by independent fact-checkers such as PolitiFact and Snopes. The tool will also allow established news publishers, including the Washington Post and the New York Times, to fact-check each other’s stories. These fact-checked labels won’t, however, affect the ranking of a story in Google results.