How We Can Solve Facebook's Fake News Problem
I'm going to take a departure from our typical content today because I have something to share with you. Something important.
It's been hard to adult lately. My heart is sore and my brain is full of despair. What will happen to our world? It's frustrating to feel so helpless.
Except we're not. One of the things that is contributing to the polarization of politics and the spread of misinformation lays at your disposal.
Facebook. Yep. We run that mother.
All of us. Facebook is like family. It's where I share myself and the things that matter to me. I suspect most of you feel the same. But Facebook has a problem.
Fake news. Just like Twitter has trolls that promote hate speech and online harassment, Facebook has propaganda. Lots of it. From both sides.
Articles that look real, headlines that feel authentic. But they aren't. And we've fallen in love with news that feeds our prejudices. Hook, line, and sinker.
in response to criticism that misleading articles on Facebook lost the election for Democrats. He said actual hoaxes are a minority of the sources shared (1%) and while Facebook has taken some steps to address that type of content, they simply can't be an arbiter of truth. And he's right. They can't.
But you can.
I saw this list circulating on Facebook. It's a great place to start, but ultimately it's a futile exercise. You'd finish blacklisting a slew of sites only to have new ones crop up the same day. The solution here is not to consult some magic list of approved sites that create authentic content.
The solution is to help people understand how to become arbiters of truth for themselves.
I come at this from the perspective of a journalist. Someone who has spent her life passionately pursuing knowledge. And I can tell you that the average person does not know how to critically evaluate a source. Academia is rife with this problem.
We live in the age of the internet, where we swim in a vast cesspool of information. It allows us to pick and choose facts in ways that reinforce our own narratives. It keeps us drowning in our own self-righteousness.
Let's conduct a little experiment to illustrate the problem, shall we? I'm going to link up several sites with similar titles that you might see shared on social media, along with their slogans. They are all purported news sites that carry some variation of the word "Daily". But that, friends, is where their similarities end.
The Daily Beast: "A smart, speedy take on news around the world."
Daily Dot: "Your internet. Your internet News."
Daily Kos: "Daily weblog with political analysis on US current events from a liberal perspective."
The Daily News: "Breaking News. World News. US and Local News."
Daily Caller: "An American News and Opinion Website"
The Daily Mail: "All the latest US news, showbiz, science, sport and health stories."
These rags look legitimate enough on the surface, although there are some obvious clues just in the taglines. Let's go pop into Wikipedia and see what they have to say about each of these publications. Wikipedia is a good place to start, but it is by no means where you should stop when it comes to researching a credible source.
Described as a reporting and opinion site with liberal, progressive views. The Daily Beast actually won a webby for "Best News Site" in 2012 and 2013. But should it have?
Current featured article's headline:
"Is Trump Playing Into Terrorist's Hands?"
This one skews liberal, and they're not even interested in hiding it. Fact check any articles against other credible sources.
Wikipedia indicates this one covers life on the web and news around the internets. Based in Texas, there are no obvious affiliations here.
Current featured article's headline: "Axl Rose is still trying to get the Fat Axl meme off the internet." Ummmm, okay.
I dug a little deeper here by looking at articles written by the founder, editor, and managing editor for this publication. I found content from both sides and an equally dispersed mention of positives for both Trump and Clinton. Looks like this one is trustworthy, folks.
This is a progressive political blog focused on advocacy. It's not considered a legitimate news source for anything. Oops.
Current featured article's headline: "Open thread for night owls: Hundreds of groups at COP22 urge end to fossil fuels."
Nope. We don't even need to discuss this. Not a news source.
This is an actual newspaper. Whew. Finally! The New York Daily News. Here is what Wikipedia has to say about their political leanings.
"The Daily News's editorial stance is "flexibly centrist" with a populist streak. In presidential elections, the paper endorsed Republican George W. Bush in 2004, Democrat Barack Obama in 2008, Republican Mitt Romney in 2012, and Democrat Hillary Clinton in 2016." (Wikipedia, New York Daily News)
Current featured article's headline: "North Carolina parents featured on ‘Extreme Makeover: Home Edition’ gave away custody of five foster children." Seems like there could be more important things going on, Daily News. Just sayin'.
This one is fairly trustworthy, with a healthy smattering of content from both sides of the political spectrum. It can come off sometimes as a bit of a gossip rag, but not usually when it comes to politics. Share away.
Founded by Tucker Carlson, a famous political pundit and libertarian conservative, this publication is labeled as a news and opinion site.
Current featured article's headline: "Emails: Clinton Donor Claimed To Be In Cahoots With Conservative Think Tank Chief" I almost snarfed when I read cahoots. At least someone still uses the word.
Yeah. Pretty obvious what is happening here. They even have a section devoted to gun reviews and a healthy sidebar ad from the NRA. Oh, goodie.
A British tabloid? You don't say! This newspaper can boast that it is the only British newspaper where females make up the majority of the readership. Wikipedia labels them as conservative.
Current featured article's headline: "It's a steak out! Trump hoodwinks reporters and sneaks out of Trump Tower to eat with family at famous 21 Club - and promises diners 'we'll get your taxes down' before taking his favorite table." Yuck. Who the hell is writing their headlines?! Moving on.
Analysis: Do you like facts? Do they taste good to you? Then you should run far, far away from The Daily Mail. This is not for you.
Are you beginning to see the problem? I picked 6 "news sites" randomly that contained the word daily. Only two of them had content that didn't have obvious skew.
But you're sharing this stuff. I'm sharing this stuff. We all are. And we need to stop.
Before you hit that share button, let's commit to each other to ask these questions.
1: What's the source?
This is kind of like the rules your Mom has for eating stuff off the ground. If you don't know where it came from, don't put it in your mouth. News is like that, too. If you can't determine the source, that's a bad, bad sign. Memes, maps without links or citations, etc.
2: Where does it live?
A site's domain tells you a lot about it. .Coms are in it for the money. .Orgs have an advocacy agenda. .Gov is, well, you get the idea. This is grade school stuff, but we forget all the time. Judge a book by its cover, or more specifically, a site by its address.
3: Is there authority?
Look at the author's credentials. Do they have the background to talk about this topic knowledgeably? Not sure? Google is your friend. Because every writer leaves a trail of breadcrumbs and you can follow it right back to their political affiliation. Every damn time.
4: Accurate and objective?
This one is hard. Because it seems so subjective. Here's how you trick yourself past your own bias. Look for the facts. The headlines are meant to trigger an emotional response, so click past those. Mine the article. It should link out to other credible sources that support the assertions. It should present not speculation but evidence.
5: Is it current?
This is the biggest mistake I see well meaning people make. I did it just recently. We feel outraged. And we skim right past that telltale time stamp at the beginning of the article. Facebook is a fantastic perpetrator of this because often, pages recycle content. We end up posting articles from years ago, unwittingly feeding into the echo chamber in a very literal way.
Let's make a promise to hold each other accountable on this.
Facebook isn't willing to police fake news, but they'll let you report it. So next time you see something in your feed, you can use the drop down menu to select "report this post". And instead of reporting it to Facebook, you can privately let the person who posted it know that you found the content misleading and ask them to remove it. It's hard to confront someone. I get it. But if we want to make our world a better place, we need to do this. Gently, politely nudge each other towards a healthier dialogue.
But I am a libertarian conservative or a liberal progressive, you'll say. Those are my views.Okay. But think of it this way. You're like those annoying evangelists, who canvas the neighborhood repeatedly, trying to give you pamphlets. Read those publications by all means. But don't litter our shared space with that propaganda masked as news. We owe each other more respect and civility than that.
Want to ferret out more fake news sites? Snopes has a pretty good list going on as well.
Facts matter, friends. And I hope they matter to you. There are lots of things we can't change right now, either about this election or the chaos our country is experiencing. But this we can do. We can hold each other accountable to sharing responsibly.
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