We’ve become obsessed with ‘fake news’. Some more than others…
We’re so obsessed that even Facebook has become ‘involved’. And for good reason – the rise of fake news leaves swaths of the population not only uninformed, but actually MISinformed which really is much worse. It also leaves the masses filled with a burning rage, with both sides shouting out ‘Fake News’ as if it’s some kind of mantra.
Facebook has been reportedly one of the largest platforms on which fake news is consistently shared, and with more than 2 billion (!) users, it means that fake stories can gain considerable traction, often leading to unfortunately very real consequences.
For this reason, Facebook announced back in March that it was going to make an effort to curb the distribution of these fake news stories via a variety of methods. As of several months ago, enlightened Facebook users can actually flag a story that they believe to be fake news, causing FB to send the story to a third-party fact-checking site such as Snopes.com or Politifact. This fact-checking process can also apparently be triggered if Facebook notices something suspicious about the article. Should two reputable sources confirm that the story is indeed fake Facebook adds a ‘disputed’ tag to the fake news site and purportedly reduces traction of the story in user’s feeds. It makes sense; it’s just not enough.
First of all, fake news sharers are probably Facebook friends with fake news sharers, who are friends with other fake news sharers who are…you get the point. We all have a tendency to surround ourselves with like-minded people (e.g. the very real liberal bubble, academic bubble, etc.) and this means that people who are more likely to trust a fake news source are more likely to have friends with the same inclinations, meaning that the post will not be swiftly flagged as fake by natural users. Of course if the story gains enough traction there is likely one diligent friend who might dispute the validity of the article, but it’s difficult for the pre-disputed readers to unsee the article. Also recall that once the post is flagged by users, it still needs to be fact-checked by reliable sources; a process that could take days in some cases. We’re all susceptible to bias, and it’s much harder to change your opinion than it is to form the initial one in the first place. What this means is that time is IMPORTANT. The more time that an article spends undisputed, the more time people have to see it and form an opinion that shapes their overall views of the world.
In addition to the time delay, Facebook refuses to tag the article as objectively false or even remove the fake news article outright. And that little ‘disputed’ tag is pretty easy to ignore if the article confirms some bias you as a reader already have.
Basically we really have no idea how to deal with the problem of fake news in the media. Facebook clearly doesn’t want to take responsibility, and it raises the very real concern of censorship – who should decide what can or cannot be shared? Clearly, we haven’t figured it out.