Facebook's fake news


From bloggers to elected officials, everyone was talking about Facebook’s trending topics section last spring. People were particularly worried about allegations of censorship, which Facebook flatly denied.

This August, Facebook officially went all-in on its algorithm, firing the human editors and counting on the AI. The move wasn’t unexpected; in fact, the only thing surprising was that they didn’t promote it more, since they had always planned to have the algorithm take over.

Or maybe that was good planning on Facebook’s part, considering it only took a few hours for a hoax article about Megyn Kellyand reports of people behaving badly with a McChicken (nswf, and it’s really not worth the search) to dominate the stream.

Oops, indeed.

Professional journalists are simultaneously breathing a sigh of relief that the algorithm couldn’t hack it and worrying about the future implications for the industry. Let’s face it: Facebook is a dominant social network, if not the dominant one, and Americans increasingly get their news from social media. In fact, the average user is spending 50 minutes per day on Facebook and/or Instagram.

So for anyone, journalist or advertiser, who wants to reach users where they already are, Facebook is a pretty good bet. The thing is Facebook is in the business of making money for Facebook. That isn’t a bad thing by any means, but the implications of algorithms can be huge.

The good news: Facebook, along with Twitter, YouTube and Buzzfeed, just joined First Draft, an organization that helps newsrooms and publishers verify stories. First Draft also has some helpful tips for sharing information in ways that don’t help hoaxers build backlinks.

And remember – if you’re not sure if a story’s real, there’s always Snopes.

About the author:
Tara Saylor is a communications manager by day, grad student by night and curious all the time. She is also a web nerd and recovering copywriter. Tara focuses on the channels that enable communication and using metrics to improve communication effectiveness. She tweets about communication and combines as @AnokheeTara.