Facebook will try stomping out fake news in the German elections this year

posted at 6:31 pm on January 15, 2017 by Jazz Shaw

The obvious problem with the fake news debate is that it showed up too late for anyone to actually do anything about it. And by that, of course, I mean nobody wanted to talk about it until after Hillary Clinton had lost the election. But fear not, citizens! Plans are in place and we’re going to cure the internet of this scourge of bogus reporting once and for all. No… we’re not shutting down the New York Times or the Washington Post. Instead, Facebook is going to launch some new programs to stamp out bogus news feed items on their platform. But since they missed the boat here in the United States, they’ll run up a trial balloon in Germany as they go to the polls this year. (IO News)

Facebook has announced it will take up the cudgels against the scourge of fake news in Germany, as Europe’s largest economy gears up for elections this year.

The social media giant is keen on not continuing their algorithm of “engagement” without any filters because it had an adverse impact in the run-up to the US election. The algorithm is a tool that helps prioritize stories that have a certain elements of interest among the public…

The firm said it would offer a simpler reporting process for users to flag suspected fake news, display warnings next to statements identified as false by independent fact-checking organisations, and cut off advertising revenue to fake news sites presenting themselves as real news organisations.

Stories flagged with a fake news warning will not be eligible to be converted into an ad seen by other users or “promoted” into other users’ feeds for a fee.

It probably won’t come as too much of a shock to learn that it’s Angela Merkel’s party (the Social Democrats) who are pushing for these “corrective actions.” The chairman of the party – Thomas Oppermann – recently announced that the Russians were interesting in defeating Merkel, leading to the crackdown effort. (Christian Science Monitor)

According to Facebook, the company is already taking steps to minimize the spread of fake news such as working with third-party fact checking organizations to flag suspicious stories and stopping fake news sites from purchasing ad space.

Politically, Mr. Oppermann’s strategy to force Facebook to delete suspicious or fake news could backfire, says Mr. McNamee. “It is entirely imaginable that ‘banned by Facebook’ or ‘the story Facebook didn’t want you to read’ could become a badge of honor for a populist campaign.”

Perhaps Facebook is just suffering pangs of guilt and wants to do the right thing in terms of keeping the news “clean” for everyone. Or… and I’m just tossing out a guess here… maybe it has something to do with the fact that the Germans recently suggested that they might fine Facebook up to half a million euros for every instance of “fake news” they find which isn’t deleted within 24 hours. Yeah, in retrospect it might have been the crippling fines.

What’s still not been addressed is precisely how the social media companies are supposed to identify all of this fake news to begin with. And even assuming the resources are available, who is going to determine which sites are “fake news sites” and which ones are outlets which some users don’t like? Thus far Facebook is shopping the job out to companies like Correctiv. Also, it will still rely heavily on items being reported by the users. (I can’t see how that could possibly run into problems.) It will be fascinating to see how and where they draw the line as Facebook’s partner in Germany and who will be getting the ban hammer. What if a smaller outlet posts something you don’t like but which turns out to be true? Can they appeal? And how about if the Washington Post publishes a totally fake story saying that the Russians have hacked into the American power grid? Will their news be banned from Facebook or just that one article?

The German elections are going to be nearly as contentious as ours this time around. I can’t wait to see how Facebook handles this.

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