Facebook and Twitter take steps to wipe the web of fake news

Trevor Mogg
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In case you hadn’t noticed, fake news is a growing problem for social media sites like Facebook and Twitter, a reality that’s prompted the two companies to work with others to tackle the issue.

The pair have joined more than 30 other news outlets and tech firms – the New York Times, the Washington Post, and CNN among them – to deal more effectively with the proliferation of bogus news, and on a wider scale to improve the overall quality of information found on the web.

The move comes as social media sites play an increasing role in news dissemination via partnerships with traditional media organizations that in turn have to led to more and more web users hitting the sites for their news fix.

Set up by Google-backed FirstDraft, the newly formed network will work together to create a voluntary code of practice and also launch a collaborative verification system for journalists and social media companies to ensure the integrity of news reports.

Details about the project are slight at this stage, but if it ultimately leads to an increase in the reliability of online content for news junkies and other web users, then there’ll doubtless be a lot of pleased netizens out there.

Fake news comes in many forms, from news outlets inadvertently constructing erroneous content using hastily gathered material pulled from Twitter during a breaking news event, to scammers deliberately posting bogus news articles on a site laden with revenue-generating ads before hitting services like Facebook to generate traffic.

The latter is a growing problem – Facebook was embarrassed just a couple of weeks ago when one of its newly promoted algorithms greenlit a fake story – as hoaxers become increasingly creative in their methods.

In a FirstDraft article on the matter published in the spring, Craig Silverman outlined several ways in which fake news sites are evolving, including a trick where the same story about, say, a terrorist attack is posted multiple times with only the city name changed.

“The hoaxers publish the articles on one or several websites and then join Facebook groups focused on the locations cited in the hoaxes,” Silverman wrote. “Once accepted into the group, they share the link with all the members. This ensures a hoax about, say, Chicago is seen by people who live there. Those people click on and/or share the link with others in the area, thus driving traffic to the websites hosting the hoax.

“When it works well the hoax will go viral locally. If you create 10 or 15 of these articles, each about a different city, you can start to generate some decent traffic.”

Related: Twitter and Facebook are becoming the dominant news sources for American adults

Commenting on the formation of the network, FirstDraft managing director Jenni Sargent wrote in a post, “Filtering out false information can be hard. Even if news organisations only share fact-checked and verified stories, everyone is a publisher and a potential source.

“We are not going to solve these problems over night, but we’re certainly not going to solve them as individual organisations.”

As the long as The Onion isn’t adversely affected, its efforts are likely to be broadly welcomed.