Google and Facebook crack fake news sites

Meanwhile, Facebook has deployed a 'task force' to police stories

After claims that fake news circulating on Google and Facebook contributed to Donald Trump's shock election win last week, the two companies are now taking steps to block ads on phony websites.

The move follows heavy criticism of Facebook for an alleged lack of oversight during the US presidential election, in which false news reports were allowed to spread to potentially undecided voters. The claim is that many of these stories gave Trump and unfair advantage, something that Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg has since rejected.

Now Facebook and Google have announced they will be revising advertising policies to help limit the spread of 'fake news'. Google is currently making changes to block ad content on websites engaged in spreading misleading stories, to starve them of revenue.

"We do not integrate or display ads in apps or sites containing content that is illegal, misleading or deceptive, which includes fake news," added Facebook in a statement to Reuters. The company added that it would continue to vet publishers to catch fake stories.

A report by BuzzFeed News suggests that Facebook has deployed an unofficial task force made up of "more than dozens" of employees to deal with the issue of fake news.

A source inside the task force told BuzzFeed the company was well aware that fake news was a problem for the election, which is particularly damning given Zuckerberg's public statements to the contrary.

"Mark Zuckerberg knows, and those of us at the company know, that fake news ran wild on our platform during the entire campaign season," said an anonymous member of the task force.

However, blocking ads will not deal with the problem of hoax news stories appearing in the Google News feed. In the last few days a search for 'final election count' would direct users to a website that claimed Trump had won the popular vote, despite votes still being counted and showing Clinton with a slight lead.

The changes instead will simply limit financial support for websites choosing to publish inaccurate news. Google's AdSense places text ads on millions of sites within its network, providing many with a major source of revenue.

"Moving forward, we will restrict ad serving on pages that misrepresent, misstate, or conceal information about the publisher, the publisher's content, or the primary purpose of the web property," said Google, in a statement to Reuters.

A recent BuzzFeed News report found that small publishers in Macedonia were taking AdSense revenue by creating articles on fake news websites, many of which were pro-Trump, that were then shared across social media.

14/11/2016: Facebook will take action against fake election news

Facebook's Mark Zuckerberg has said he will work with staff to ensure fake news stories aren't distributed through the social networks.

Although 99% of the news posted on Facebook is genuine, he said, the other 1% may not be the truth and this is a problem, he wrote on his Facebook page. However, he is still adamant made up news stories weren't responsible for Donald Trump being voted president in the US election.

"Only a very small amount is fake news and hoaxes," Zuckerberg said. "The hoaxes that do exist are not limited to one partisan view, or even to politics," he added. News stories related to the election last week, in his opinion, were not likely to have changed the result one way or the other.

"That said, we don't want any hoaxes on Facebook. Our goal is to show people the content they will find most meaningful, and people want accurate news," he added. "We have already launched work enabling our community to flag hoaxes and fake news, and there is more we can do here. We have made progress, and we will continue to work on this to improve further."

An increasing number of people around the world use Facebook as their main source of news and this makes it even more important for the company to ensure any news is factual.

However, the act of identifying whether news is true or not is not an easy task. Any news that is flagged up as being fake will need to be carefully scrutinised, he said, and the company must tread carefully.

"Identifying the 'truth' is complicated. While some hoaxes can be completely debunked, a greater amount of content, including from mainstream sources, often gets the basic idea right but some details wrong or omitted," he wrote.

"An even greater volume of stories express an opinion that many will disagree with and flag as incorrect even when factual."

11/11/2016: Zuckerberg: Fake Facebook news didn't help Trump win

Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg yesterday denied that his social network helped Donald Trump win the US election.

In an interview at the Techonomy conference in California, Zuckerberg said fake news on Facebook could not have influenced the outcome of the presidential election.

He said: "Personally, I think the idea that fake news on Facebook - it's a very small amount of the content - to think it influenced the election in any way is a pretty crazy idea."

He added that if fake news were shared, it was likely that both candidates adopted this strategy.

After Trump's win, Fortune reported the views of critics who believed fake news on Facebook played a role in the US election outcome.

Facebook has about 1.79 billion users of all political affiliations. During the interview, which was carried out by David Kirkpatrick, author of the book The Facebook effect, Zuckerberg highlighted the variety of backgrounds populating the Facebook community.

"Even if 90% of your friends are Democrats, probably 10% are Republicans," he said. "Even if you live in some state or country you will know some people in another state, another country. That means that the information you are getting through the social system is going to be inherently more diverse than you would have gotten through news stations."

Zuckerberg's interview took place two days after Trump won the election, despite Hillary Clinton winning more votes overall.

He said: "Voters make decisions based on their lived experience. There is a profound lack of empathy in asserting that the only reason someone would have voted the way they did is because they saw fake news. If you believe that, then I don't think you internalised the message that Trump voters are trying to send in this election."

Zuckerberg did not, however, state what message he was referring to.

This is not the first time that Facebook is accused of spreading fake news. In August, Facebook substituted its team of news curators with algorithms that automatically select stories to place in its Trending News section.

This could have led to false news being selected without them being verified. Facebook hence introduced a new 'review team', to try and solve this problem.

In the interview, Zuckerberg admitted that a lot still had to be done to improve the quality of news that reaches the public, but he dismissed the idea that fake news could influence voters to this extent.

Just a few months ago, Reuters reported that Facebook, alongside other social media and technology platforms such as Twitter, joined a group called First Draft Coalition, whose goal is to tackle fake news and produce more trustworthy information.

Source: IT PRO