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Facebook found a better way to fight fake news

  • Facebook says the Related Articles feature gives people more context about the story, with the added benefit of reducing the frequency a hoax article is shared.
  • After a year of testing, the company found that Disputed Flags inadvertently buried critical information that explained the inaccuracies, and could backfire by entrenching a person's false beliefs.
Facebook
Bill Hinton | Getty Images

Facebook has announced it will no longer use Disputed Flags to identify false news. Starting from today, the company will use its Related Articles tool instead to combat misinformation in the News Feed, which it says gives people more context about the story, with the added benefit of reducing the frequency a hoax article is shared.

After a year of testing, the company found that Disputed Flags inadvertently buried critical information that explained the inaccuracies, and could backfire by entrenching a person's false beliefs. Facebook's previous approach was also slow (taking around 3 days for a rating), required two fact checkers, and only worked for "false" ratings, rather than broader contexts like "partly false" or "unproven."

Facebook started testing a new version of Related Articles and fact-checked articles earlier this year. It found that click-through rates on the hoax article didn't change between the two treatments, but did find that Related Articles led to fewer shares of the hoax article.

The company also cites academic research that correcting a post containing misinformation through related articles can significantly reduce misperceptions. "Using language that is unbiased and non-judgmental helps us to build products that speak to people with diverse perspectives," Facebook said in a Medium post. Related articles also only require one fact checker to review rather than the usual two, which speeds up the process — something Facebook has said it wanted to address. Facebook says it has also placed prominent badges next to each fact checker so users can identify the source.

Facebook says most fake news posted on the platform is financially motivated, aiming for clicks that lead users to websites containing mostly ads. Facebook notes that it's making progress on preventing the spread of false news, by demoting the posts thereby cutting their traffic by 80 percent. "This destroys the economic incentives spammers and troll farms have to generate these articles in the first place," Facebook said in another blog post. Facebook says repeat offenders posting false news will have their advertising rights removed, their distribution reduced, and their opportunities to monetize restricted. The company will also start a new initiative from today to understand how users decide whether or not information is accurate based on the news source.

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