Facebook has already lost the battle, but it’s reorganizing its troops and attempting an all-out assault on fake news after its security team admitted in a new report that “fake personas were created on Facebook...to amplify news accounts” and spread fake information online during the 2016 United States Presidential election.
Facebook has since taken action, “killing” 30,000 fake accounts in France. It’s also drafted users like you to report fake news, implementing a little button in the upper-right-hand corner of posts to activate the counterintelligence to vet the misinformation.
That counterintelligence is conducted by some of the most trusted news agencies -- Associated Press, ABC News, Politifact, FactCheck, and Snopes. ABC said they aren’t being paid for its efforts despite devoting six journalists to it full-time, and I’d assume the rest are “volunteer mercenaries” as well, which makes me feel all patriotic for American journalism.
But fake news is paid news, so waging war against it requires paid fact-checkers. But Facebook is putting its own boots on the ground, directly in front of its massive algorithm, and it has counterintelligence that shows who it should target. Facebook claims that users who post more than 50 times per day are most likely sharing spam or fake news. So Facebook can now limit their distribution as if it were destroying railroad tracks, airports, bridges and highways.
Facebook doesn’t even have to consider what the trains, planes and automobiles are carrying. The link between spam and fake news and those sharing more than 50 times per day is so strong, Facebook doesn’t even need to consider the content. “It’s one of the strongest signals we’ve ever found for identifying a broad range of problematic content,” Facebook’s vice president in charge of News Feed, Adam Mosseri told Recode’s Kurt Wagner.
The problem is Facebook has to cover its ass and allow for freedom of speech and the press -- you know, those First Amendment rights. So if Facebook thinks you or its algorithm has found fake news and wants to blow it out of the water, it has its counterintelligence team of journalists fact-check the story. Even then, though, Facebook can’t launch torpedoes. It sets phasers to stun and flags the post as “disputed” if two of its counterintelligence communities finds a problem with the news. And while disputed stories don’t show up as much in the sea that is News Feed, they’re still out there -- seeking, and eventually destroying, a gullible target.
Facebook has even taken steps to assist the gullible targets by asking them if they’re sure they want to share the trash upon which they’ve stumbled. Nothing’s stopping that fake news terrorist from tossing that bomb into the Facebook-sphere, though.
The one thing that would make a difference on the fake news front doesn’t seem to be figured out yet. Facebook says it’s going to make it harder for fake news publishers to profit from fake news, but they haven’t revealed how. In their new report, Facebook calls this phase of the battle plan as “disrupting economic incentives.”
Fake news publishers are practicing guerrilla warfare already, though, moving from network to network in order to keep the ad revenue coming. And as long as there are gullible targets willing to click on fake news, there will be fake news. The best defense against fake news is through an educational campaign that limits the number of gullible targets to the point it’s no longer profitable for fake news publishers. That’s the weapon Public Data Lab and First Draft are working to create, and until that information bomb is complete, fake news will continue to sail the Facebook News Feed seas. It takes a new propaganda campaign to end the current one.