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Social Media’s Fight Against “Fake News”

Fake News: Not only has the phrase fake news become a talking point of 2017 politics in the United States, it has also directly affected the way U.S. citizens read and disseminate information.

It’s such a hot topic the 2017 edition of the Associated Press Stylebook and Briefing on Media Law included the phrase, stating “the term fake news may be used in quotes or as shorthand for the modern phenomenon of deliberate falsehoods or fiction masked as news circulating on the internet.”

Today a large amount of news is shared on social media platforms, such as Facebook and Twitter. To put this in perspective, in 2016, 62 percent of U.S. adults stated they get news on social media, and 18 percent do so often, according to a survey by Pew Research Center, conducted in association with the John S. and James L. Knight Foundation.

Leaders at social networks have tasked themselves with taking a stand against the fake news movement. In August 2017, Facebook announced the introduction of “Related Articles,” a feature that underwent testing in April, that provide additional perspectives and information on stories shared on Facebook users’ News Feeds. Facebook also said it will start using updated machine learning to detect more possible hoaxes and send them to independent fact checkers.

“False news is harmful to our community, it makes the world less informed, and it erodes trust. It’s not a new phenomenon, and all of us — tech companies, media companies, newsrooms, teachers — have a responsibility to do our part in addressing it,” wrote Adam Mosseri, Facebook vice president, News Feed, in a May 2017 company statement. The company said it is fighting the spread of fake news in three ways:

  • disrupting economic incentives because most false news is financially motivated;
  • building new products to curb the spread of false news; and
  • helping people make more informed decisions when they encounter false news.

Facebook is not alone. In June, Twitter announced it was considering a feature that would allow users to flag tweets that contain misleading, false or harmful information. According to reports, the feature is still in a prototype phase and may never be released.

What’s the quick takeaway? Social media users look to these platforms for information, and the sharing of fake content is becoming a larger issue. As Merriam-Webster notes, the use of fake news is not new. News headlines included this phrase as far back as 1890. But social media and the 24/7 news cycle obviously did not exist in the 19th century.

The sharing of legitimately fake news (not the reporting of the news outlets you don’t care for), which can be detrimental to our society, must come to an end. The changes Facebook and Twitter are making are encouraging but there is still much more work to be done. Want to learn more? Take a look at the Facebook Journalism Project or read the Columbia Journalism Reviews take on the fake news phenomena.  

And we want to hear from you. Has fake news changed the way you take in news on social media or through traditional media avenues such as print, television and radio? Tell us in the comment section below!


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