With a federal election looming in Germany, Facebook is beginning to attach warning labels to made-up stories seen by German users of the web site. The effort, an attempt to curb the spread of “fake news” and hoaxes on the site, started in the United States last month.
We finally got a grudging mea culpa from Mark Zuckerberg: an admission that fake news is a significant problem that his social network must help solve. But as a journalist who has been covering the inner workings of the technology industry for more than a decade, I find the calls for Facebook to accept broad responsibility for fact-checking the news, including by hiring editors and reporters, deeply unsettling.
When asked about the BuzzFeed report, Trump said, “It’s all fake news. It’s phony stuff. It did not happen. And it was gotten by opponents of ours, as you know because you reported it and so did many of the other people. It was a group of opponents they got together — sick people — and they put that crap together.”
FactCheck.org will work with Facebook to combat fake news on the popular social media site. In response to an increase in the circulation of fake news on its site, Facebook enlisted five fact-checking organizations to review stories that are flagged by Facebook users as potentially fake. The other fact-checking organizations working with Facebook are PolitiFact, ABC News, the Associated Press and Snopes.com.
Fact-checking is key to journalism — it’s a skill and a service that’s instrumental in providing the information to the public. Already we’ve seen lists of fake news sites; browser extensions that identify fake news sites, flag questionable Facebook posts and correct Donald Trump’s tweets; and calls for social media companies to take responsibility for allowing fake news to thrive.
In response to recent concerns about “fake news” and opinion-swaying hoaxes, Facebook has unveiled new measures to address the issue. But unless done right, these steps may create more problems than they solve — and boost claims that the “fake news crisis” is an attempt to impose political controls on the media.