Facebook is ditching "disputed" fake news flags. Here's why

 
Lynsey Barber
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There was no love for a disputed article flag on Facebook (Source: Getty)

Facebook has decided to ditch one of its most public efforts to tackle the issue of fake news just a year after it first launched.

The tech company admitted that a feature that flags that the veracity of an article is disputed by a group of fact checkers "buried critical information" and "could sometimes backfire" as well as it being labour intensive.

"Academic research on correcting misinformation has shown that putting a strong image, like a red flag, next to an article may actually entrench deeply held beliefs – the opposite effect to what we intended," said product manager Tessa Lyons.

Read more: MPs investigating fake news will fly to the US to grill tech giants

Instead the company found that related articles suggested to users before they click through to a "false" article, as it describes them, and are fact checked ended up reducing the amount of times it was shared when compared with the flag.

"We’ve also received positive feedback from people who use Facebook and found that it addresses the limitations above: it makes it easier to get context, it requires only one fact-checker’s review, it works for a range of ratings, and it doesn’t create the negative reaction that strong language or a red flag can have," said the group of designers and researchers working on the features.

They said that click-through rates through to the hoax articles remained the same as with flags, however, shining a light on the challenge it faces addressing the issue.

The tech giant maintains that demoting fake news in people's news feed - which it says leads to an 80 per cent drop in traffic - is one of its "best weapons".

Read more: Media researchers say outright fake news on Facebook is rare in the UK

"By showing related articles rather than disputed flags we can help give people better context. And understanding how people decide what’s false and what’s not will be crucial to our success over time," said Lyons.

She also said Facebook would embark upon a new initiative "to better understand how people decide whether information is accurate or not based on the news sources they depend upon" but that this was a longer term thing and would not have an impact on users news feeds in the near term. Details of what it will entail were not elaborated upon.

It comes as MPs in the UK said they would grill executives from the social network and other tech companies in Washington as part of its inquiry into the issue of fake news.

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