Facebook announces fake news tools for Germany ahead of election

Posted by Rebecca Appleton on 18 Jan, 2017
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Following the furor surrounding fake news and its role in the US presidential elections in November, Facebook has announced that it will provide users in Germany with a number of tools to report fake news in the run up to its own elections later this year.

The news comes after BuzzFeed found Facebook pages displaying false news stories about German Chancellor Angela Merkel, who is campaigning to be re-elected.

Facebook and Google both came under fire for allowing fake news to be published in the run up to the US presidential elections, with some suggesting that fake news played a role in President-elect Donald Trump’s surprising victory over Hillary Clinton. While both Google and Facebook denied this to be the case, they responded by outlining plans to combat fake news. Facebook said it had updated its Audience Network policy statement, and would not display ads in apps or sites containing fake news. It also said it was working on other tools – some of which will now be available to the social network’s users in Germany following an announcement (in German) earlier this week.

The new measures in Germany are intended to prevent fake news spreading and give users the power to flag stories they believe to be false. When a user in Germany reports a post, they’ll be able to give ‘it’s a fake news story’ as the reason for flagging it up to the social network. The post can also then be marked as fake news, so other users viewing it will see that it is suspected to be a fake news story.

Under the measures announced by Facebook in its statement, it said that it will take action on suspected fake stories by passing on the suspected false news to a German charity staffed by investigative journalists to investigate. If the facts don’t hold up to this scrutiny, Facebook will label the post as ‘disputed’ and its algorithms will push it lower down the news feed. This move means potentially fewer users will read the post, lessening the impact of the false or misleading information.

Sites that also attempt to mislead users by pretending to be an authoritative source of news will also be sanctioned.

This same system of verifying whether news is fake once flagged up is also being tested in the USA by a panel of volunteers. The panel includes news organizations from around the world.

While it didn’t directly reference fake news, Facebook also announced the launch of a new program ‘The Journalism Project’ last week on its media blog. In his post, Fidji Simo, Director of Product at Facebook said the program was intended to create stronger ties between the platform and the news industry. He said, “We will be collaborating with news organizations to develop products, learning from journalists about ways we can be a better partner, and working with publishers and educators on how we can equip people with the knowledge they need to be informed readers in the digital age.”

The journalism initiative will be built around three pillars of collaborative development of news products, training and tools for journalists and training and tools for everyone. In this third pillar of training and tools for everyone, one of the initial points of focus will be for Facebook to, “…work with third-party organizations on how to better understand and to promote news literacy both on and off our platform to help people in our community have the information they need to make decisions about which sources to trust.”

Is Facebook doing enough to combat fake news? Should it be responsible for policing false stories? Read more on this debate from a Google perspective here and share your thoughts with us in the comments. 

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