Forget about getting rid of fake news, Facebook said on Thursday. It might be raw sewage, but hey, even raw sewage has a right to flow, right?
Instead, we demote individual posts etc. that are reported by FB users and rated as false by fact checkers. This means they lose around 80% of any future views. We also demote Pages and domains that repeatedly share false news.— Facebook (@Facebook) July 12, 2018
In the name of free speech, Facebook said, it’s keeping all the bilge water, be it pumped out by the right or left… though the platform intends to push fakery down deeper into the holding tank by demoting it.
As Facebook said in its tweet, demotion translates into an 80% loss of future views, and the punishment extends to Pages and domains that repeatedly share bogus news.
This latest fake-news spasm comes on the heels of an event Facebook held in New York on Wednesday that blew up in its face. Journalists got to feed on shrimp cocktail, listen to a short presentation, and then engage in a question-and-answer session, all in the name of convincing the press that the social media network has finally reached some kind of beachhead in the war against disinformation.
Facebook’s effort fell apart when CNN reporter Oliver Darcy began to grill Facebook Head of News Feed John Hegeman about its decision to allow Alex Jones’ conspiracy news site InfoWars on its platform.
How, Darcy asked, can the company claim to be serious about tackling the problem of misinformation online while simultaneously allowing InfoWars to maintain a page with nearly one million followers on its website?
Hegeman’s reply: the company…
…does not take down false news.
CNN quoted Hegeman’s rationalization:
I guess just for being false that doesn’t violate the community standards. [InfoWars hasn’t] violated something that would result in them being taken down.
I think part of the fundamental thing here is that we created Facebook to be a place where different people can have a voice. And different publishers have very different points of view.
InfoWars is the site where conspiracy theorist Alex Jones airs his notions: notions that include labelling as “liars” the grieving families of children gunned down in school shootings such as that at Sandy Hook Elementary School. In YouTube videos, Jones has over the years said that the Sandy Hook shooting has “inside job written all over it,” has called the shooting “synthetic, completely fake, with actors, in my view, manufactured,” has claimed “the whole thing was fake,” said that the massacre was “staged,” called it a “giant hoax,” and suggested that some victims’ parents lied about seeing their dead children.
Sandy Hook is only one of his many focuses: earlier this year, InfoWars smeared student survivors of the Parkland, Florida shooting with baseless attacks, portraying them in one video as actors, just as he’s classified Sandy Hook victims as child actors. Most recently, InfoWars has pushed an unfounded conspiracy theory about how Democrats, “infuriated” by President Trump “bringing America back,” planned to start a civil war on 4 July.
Facebook isn’t the only social media platform that publishes this type of gunk, declaring that it passes muster with regards to community standards. Google, just like Facebook, considers Jones’ YouTube rants to be kosher as far as community standards go.
That, in spite of multiple defamation lawsuits having recently been filed against Jones by Sandy Hook parents. Those parents claim that Jones’s “repeated lies and conspiratorial ravings” have led to death threats, among other trauma. Another lawsuit has been filed against Jones by a man whom InfoWars incorrectly identified as the Parkland school shooter.
A bit of recent history regarding Facebook and its wrangling with fake news: In April, Facebook started putting some context around the sources of news stories. That includes all news stories: both the sources with good reputations, the junk factories, and the junk-churning bot-armies making money from it.
You might also recall that in March 2017, Facebook started slapping “disputed” flags on what its panel of fact-checkers deemed fishy news.
As it happened, these flags just made things worse. The flags did nothing to stop the spread of fake news, instead only causing traffic to some disputed stories to skyrocket as a backlash to what some groups saw as an attempt to bury “the truth”.
When Darcy pressed Facebook’s reps with more questions about the company’s tolerance of InfoWars at the press event on Wednesday, Sara Su, a Facebook product specialist for News Feed, said that Facebook is choosing to focus on tackling posts that can be proven beyond a doubt to be demonstrably false:
There’s a ton of stuff – conspiracy theories, misleading claims, cherry picking – that we know can be really problematic, and it bugs me, too. But we need to figure out a way to really define that in a clear way, and then figure out what our policy and our product positions are about that.
Facebook spokeswoman Lauren Svensson followed up with Darcy after the event, telling him that questions about InfoWars hit “on a very real tension” at Facebook, and that demoting fakery seems to strike the right kind of balance:
In other words, we allow people to post it as a form of expression, but we’re not going to show it at the top of News Feed.
That said, while sharing fake news doesn’t violate our Community Standards set of policies, we do have strategies in place to deal with actors who repeatedly share false news. If content from a Page or domain is repeatedly given a ‘false’ rating from our third-party fact-checkers …we remove their monetization and advertising privileges to cut off financial incentives, and dramatically reduce the distribution of all of their Page-level or domain-level content on Facebook.
It’s not as if the platforms aren’t retaliating at all to outrageous material such as that doled out by InfoWars.
At YouTube, Jones’s channel got its first strike on 23 February for a video that suggested that David Hogg and other student survivors of the Parkland mass shooting were crisis actors. The video, “David Hogg Can’t Remember His Lines In TV Interview,” was removed for violating YouTube’s policies on bullying and harassment.
The second strike was on a video that was also about the Parkland shooting. The consequences of getting two strikes within three months was a two-week suspension during which the account couldn’t post new content. A third strike within three months would mean InfoWars would get banned from YouTube. At the time, InfoWars had more than two million YouTube subscribers.
It is easy to make the argument that Facebook and Google are reluctant to poke the hornets’ nest when it comes to groups of users known to be volatile – that has certainly applied to InfoWars followers in the past – but at the end of the day, we have to accept that the social media companies are still just at the beginning of trying to figure out how to police their massive amounts of user-generated content.
With any set of community guidelines that have to play catch-up with current events – after all, “Sandy Hook parents” aren’t a named category when it comes to protected groups in hate speech guidelines – we’re going to have to suffer the consequences of Facebook, et al., scrambling to make it up as it goes along.
The will is undoubtedly there. But so are the ad dollars. Demoting content, Pages and domains is in service of the truth over reader engagement and marketing numbers. Is it enough to turn the tide?
Readers, your thoughts: does content demotion have any chance of making headway in this battle?
19 comments on “Facebook refuses to remove fake news, but will demote it”
This is not security, this is political.
Here’s the problem: nobody can ever prove a conspiracy theory false. At least, nor according to the conspiracy theory proponent(s).
But, even outside of the realm of conspiracy theories, how does one know? There have been major personalities taken off the air because they falsified news items. Remember Dan Rather?
But, people who supported that side of the political spectrum didn’t care; to them, it was a conspiracy by the other side of the spectrum.
Fact-checkers all have their own biases. Those biases need to be factored into the model. If all of the fact-checkers from one side of the spectrum say it’s news, while the other side says it’s false, those opinions are garbage. Only when at least some of the members of the SAME side say it’s false should any news item start to be looked at.
We are asking the wrong question. Why does Facebook have to be my Big Brother? Why can’t *I* decide how to rate my news feeds or my wall or whatever they’re calling it these days? What if I don’t want to see ANY political crap (false or true)? What if I only want to see my friend teaching her child to ride a bike or my buddy’s hiking trip? FACEBOOK, LET ME DECIDE WHAT I SEE! Give me the tools to prioritize friends, posts, or shares–or maybe I want to eliminate all shares.
Facebook has become a hate-monger’s dream. Let me be in charge of what goes on my news-feed.
And they should just put the posts in chronological order instead of Facebook deciding what they think is important for me to see.
Sounds like Facebook’s policies are pretty ineffective and will continue to be.
This article is bordering on fake news. If this site doesn’t know how to publish unbiased articles then they should stay out of politics.
The case of Infowars is a worst case scenario. It is a tacky and absurd source; I agree with Facebook that if Infowars is not violating their community standards (and that’s probably another big discussion for Facebook/social media– defining ‘standards’), they have a right to their opinion (albeit a crappy one).
Yes, I agree with some of the others here, Lisa: please report only the facts and information, no personal opinions sprinkled in the article. I do not see this labeled under ‘Editorial’ or Opinion piece, regardless that I agree with you.
Why do people bother with Fakebook?
Can I ask what does this have to do with security?
How ironic, CNN is fake news.
Why do you say that? Is it because Donald Trump said so? I find it amusing that the specific incident that occurred with CNN – (Where 3 journalists incorrectly reported on a story without MAKING SURE their sources were correct) – And although CNN has apologized for said incident and even fired those 3 employees, people are STILL holding it over CNN’s head… all because people like Donald Trump and Alex Jones keep dangling it in their followers faces and making it into something it isn’t.
We all know Alex Jones pushes some extreme hard core lies. Call them conspiracy theories if you want, but don’t deny that Jones is blatantly spreading DANGEROUS lies that are seriously hurting the lives of many. Having to change your name because people are threatening your life constantly all because of Alex Jones dirty mouth.
And speaking of lies, the king of lies himself lives in the WhiteHouse. There have already been well over 8000 documented lies from Trump since January 2017. Face checkers are on overtime when it comes to his words. It’s funny how both Trump and Alex Jones call CNN fake news, yet Trump and Jones are among the biggest perpetrators of false information.
I’d trust more InfoWars more than CNN
Doesn’t stack up, never mind the many outrageous and obviously false claims made by Alex Jones, just look past that at the incentives at work.
If InfoWars every delivered a reasoned, thoughtful, nuanced, see-it-from-both-sides piece of journalism it would be the least popular thing it had ever done, so it isn’t going to happen. Alex Jones, the guy who admitted in court that his radio persona was an act, has to keep the ratchet turning and to keep uncovering ever more outlandish conspiracies. He _has_ to, because to do otherwise means the end of his fame and fortune.
So you believe a raving liar instead of something that is verifiably true 99.999% of the time? Lemme guess, you believe ALL of Trumps lies too? It doesn’t surprise me to see an Alex Jones follower calling CNN fake newz. In their world lies are truth and truth become the lies……….. That’s gotta be painful.
Television content providers should do the same with news stations then. If a certain channel regularly runs any news stories or commentary that contain any verified false, biased, or non-objective information, the channel should be blacked out from view 80% of the time.
Great idea, then cnn would be outraged because cnn would be hidden 80% of the time. Hiding content that facebook thinks is fake is going to be seriously problematic. It’s called shadow-banning and has been happening to conservatives on twitter for awhile now.
The only problem with that is you just eliminated EVERY news channel and just about every news program on regular channels, along with the History Channels, the Discovery Channels, Dr. Phil, People’s Court, Judge Judy and her ilk, and probably 60% of what’s televised. You’d even have to take a good look at the Weather Channel, which changed massively in the time that IBM’s bought it out.
Then again, that might not be such a bad idea…
Some quotes taken out of context does not substantiate your claims against Alex Jones. If in fact he’s said such things about the Sandy Hook incident then please provide a link to the assertion you’re making.
I find it very interesting that the rights insane types such as infowars are rabidly defended online when posted about on random sites with no political emphasis, such as NS, but the left’s are not.
I remain unsure why, and want to know.