Facebook has rolled out a new feature that will flag fake news articles that are being circulated in the social network.
The flagging system is not a perfect one, but it shows that Facebook is least trying to do something about the problem.
Facebook's Fight Against Fake News
In December 2016, Facebook announced that it will be tapping third-party fact checkers to be able to identify fake news on the social network. The partners that Facebook revealed for the initiative are Snopes, the Associated Press, ABC News, Politifact, and FactCheck.org.
By January, Facebook started testing tools to combat fake news in Germany, as the country gears up for its federal election. It was reported that fake news articles were already being circulated regarding German Chancellor Angela Merkel, which makes testing in Germany a logical choice. In addition, Facebook does not want to again be associated with allegations that fake news on the platform helped shape the results of an election, especially after the same claim was made for the victory of President Donald Trump.
On March 3, it was reported that Facebook finally rolled out the new flagging system against fake news, which will tag such articles with a "disputed" label along with the fact checkers that question the truth behind the article.
How Does The Disputed Article Tag Work?
In the help page uploaded by Facebook regarding disputed articles on the social network, the company said that the "disputed" label will be attached to fake news articles.
The process for an article circulated on Facebook to be given the "disputed" tag begins when users send in reports regarding the story or if the software that Facebook uses catches the article. Facebook will then forward the article to its partner fact checkers, and once at least two of the organizations determine that the story is fake news, the "disputed" label will be attached to it.
Will Disputed Articles Finally Solve The Facebook Fake News Problem?
Tagging fake news on Facebook as disputed articles will hopefully push users to be more critical and check the articles itself and its source. The additional scrutiny that will accompany the "disputed" label could make users more aware of which news articles are fake and which are legitimate.
However, such a flagging system on Facebook will likely not be enough to solve the whole fake news problem. First and foremost, using a "disputed" label instead of a clearer "fake" label could make users think that the article is only generating controversy and not a complete falsification of facts.
In addition, the time that it takes to apply the label on fake news is currently far from ideal. A screenshot that was taken by Gizmodo reporter Anna Merlan of an article by The Seattle Tribune showed that Snopes and PolitiFact dispute the story, but for an article that was published on Feb. 26, it was not until March 3, when PolitiFact got to the article after Snopes, that the label was applied. Users who saw the article between Feb. 26 and March 3 have likely already made up their minds about the topic within those several days.
The Seattle Tribune is even described as a satirical publication, which should have made the process of applying the "disputed" label much quicker, perhaps not even needing fact checkers to go through its articles.
Hopefully Facebook will be able to further improve its flagging system in the near future so that it will have a bigger impact on the prevention of fake news in the social network.