After the 2016 presidential election, the term “fake news” suddenly became a household name in America. Politics and social media clashed in an epic showdown where both political parties blamed fake news stories in social media for influencing the election. Democrats cried foul when evidence of fake Russian news posts appeared in Facebook’s feed during the run up to the election. Republicans on the other hand blamed the so called biased mainstream media for falsely reporting fake news stories against Donald Trump to sway the vote.
And now the the election is over, and the first year of the Trump administration has come and gone, fake news is once again trending in the headlines. On January 17, 2018, President Trump held what he called the “2017 Fake News Awards,” where Trump counted down his top 11 fake news stories of the year. Many on the left cried foul, blaming the Fake News Awards as being just another example of fake news. Regardless of your political views, whether you bat right or left, every American should be concerned of fake news influencing the game of politics.
Some have argued that our Democracy itself is even under threat. Facebook’s civic engagement chief Samidh Chakrabarti recently stated that Facebook is “not blind to the damage that the Internet can do to a well functioning Democracy.” Chakrabarti also acknowledged that Facebook was too slow to react in 2016, in the run up to the election. The worlds top social media company concluded that Russian actors created 80,000 posts that reached 126 million people in the United States. As a result, Facebook is now fighting back by taking a proactive approach to halt misinformation.
Recently, on January 19th, Chief Executive Mark Zuckerberg announced a new initiative to combat “sensationalism and misinformation” on Facebook. The social network announced that it will now use member surveys to determine which news is trustworthy within its feed. The social media giant, which has more than 2 billion monthly visitors, said its members would ultimately determine “trustworthiness,” not the executives at Facebook. Zuckerberg expects the new change to reduce the amount of news on Facebook by 20 percent overall, leaving just “high quality news,” over the less trusted sources.
Google and Twitter are both taking similar stances on the fight against fake news. Both have implemented a new policy of using “trust indicators” to weed out unreliable news sources within its feeds. These indicators allow the users to vet news articles to help identify false news stories and to fact check the publishers. The indicators were developed by the Trust Project, a non-partisan effort operating out of Santa Clara University Center of Applied Ethics. Its goal is to boost transparency and media literacy, when a time of misinformation is rampant on social media.
Mark Zuckerberg phrased it best when he wrote, “there is too much sensationalism, misinformation and polarization in the world today. Social media allows people to spread information faster than ever before, and if we don’t specifically tackle these problems, then we end up amplifying them.”
So next time you read a news story on Facebook, Google or Twitter, keep in mind that it was likely vetted using new tools like trust indicators or member surveys that pre-screened the story before it ever hit your feed. So be relieved that news like the July 2016 story of Pope Francis endorsement of Donald Trump for President, will likely cease to ever exist on Facebook, Google or Twitter.