Friday, December 16, 2016

More Weapons In The War Against Fake News

If you get the bulk of your news from television and print journalism, you may be unaware of the extent to which fake news has taken hold in the virtual world. If you are in that category, here is a link to the stories I have posted revolving around the issue. Or just do a quick Google search. The fact that such fiction has deep traction should worry us all.

Given the suspicion that fake news may very well have been a contributing factor in the recent U.S. election results, especially the prominent role that Facebook seems to have played, the world is now beginning to take this threat seriously and devising ways to ferret out the mendacious from the true. And Facebook will play a leading role:
The social network is going to partner with the Poynter International Fact-Checking Network, which includes groups such as Snopes, to evaluate articles flagged by Facebook users.

If those articles don’t pass the smell test for the fact-checkers, Facebook will pass on that evaluation with a little label whenever they are posted or shared, along with a link to the organization that debunked the story.
While it will not end the scourge of fake news, once the domain of tabloids like The National Enquirer, it will undoubtedly put a dent in it:
The new system will work like this: if there’s a story out there that is patently false — saying that a celebrity is dead when they aren’t, for example — then users will see a notice saying that the story has been disputed or debunked. People who try and share stories that have been found false will also see an alert before they post. Flagged stories will also appear lower in the news feed than unflagged stories.

Users will also be able to report potentially false stories to Facebook, or send messages to the person posting a questionable article directly.
And if that isn't enough, there are other means at our personal disposal through browser plug-ins and extensions, one of which, the B.S. Detector, I previously wrote about. There are others as well:
Slate unfurled This Is Fake, which combines crowdsourcing and editorial curation to identify articles in Facebook feeds that spread misinformation and flag them as false.
An open source project, the FiB Chrome Extension, combs through a user’s Facebook news feed to verify status updates, images and links through image recognition, keyword extraction, source verification and a Twitter search. An artificial intelligence assessment of facts results in a verdict tagged as “Verified” or “Not Verified.” If the story is deemed false, the AI will search for a verified source on the same topic.
Another one is Media Bias/Fact Check. The Daily Dot offers this description:
While Media Bias/Fact Check doesn’t scan your Facebook, it will help you when you end up on a site with questionable news. Or any other type of news. The app works by scraping data from Media Bias Fact Check, a wonderful site that checks for bias across all ideological spectrums.

When you land on a news page and press the MB/FC icon in Chrome, the extension will tell you exactly what kind of bias you can expect from your source. Left, right, center, or somewhere in space, MB/FC will tell you who is lying and when.
As I have said before, ultimately nothing serves to replace skilled critical thinking in assessing what we read and hear. But given the scope of fake news today and its increasingly harmful impact, every development that helps to hem in such deceit is indeed welcome.


  1. If many Trump supporters are an indication of what kind of people such fake news flagging is directed at, then it seems like it will do very little good vis-a-vis the very people that need it. Trump supporters will surely see such a branding method as another MSM plot to control the news etc.

    1. A very good point, Kirby, and therein lies the Achilles heel of any of these measures. On the other hand, if any of this has potential to hold giants like Facebook to some account, it is all to the good, in my view.

  2. I find myself increasingly questioning 'news' from previously considered 'reliable' MSM sites, Lorne. I am not sure if that is good or bad but with 'opinion' pieces being presented as 'news' we all need to be on our guard for spin and BS. I have never subscribed to FB and never will so I cant comment on that except to say that the proposed changes appear to be a small step in the right direction.
    I wonder will Google provide such a tool in the future?

    1. Looking for bias in MSM news is always a useful strategy, Rural. While the right is always crying about liberal bias in stories that conflict with their own ideology, the progressive consumer of news should always be alert to it from both sides of the political spectrum.

      I was really surprised to learn how many people get their 'news' from Facebook. I use it primarily for news feeds from a variety of pretty reputable sources, such as CBC, Truthout, The Guardian,and Raw story, to name but a few.

  3. I suspect that most Trump supporters are like Trump, Lorne. They watch "the shows" but they don't read. However, I do appreciate the links you've provided. Neil Postman would approve.

    1. I guess all we can do is keep trying, Owen, even if just to deny final victory to the malacious and the incredulous.