Facebook needs a “Fake” flag in addition to “Like,” etc.
If readers could click a “Fake” flag to identify fake news stories, then fact-checking is crowd-sourced. What could go wrong? Well, a lot of people who don’t like a report by (say) the NY Times could click the “Fake” flag and tar the story with baseless accusations.
The way around that is pretty easy: a whitelist of news sources that don’t do fake news: NY Times, Washington Post, Chicago Tribune, Sacramento Bee, and so on. Links to whitelisted sources would not offer the “Fake” flag option.
I think this would be a relatively easy modification. (That’s a statement programmers hate because they hear it so often from people who have absolutely no idea of what’s involved.) The biggest effort will be curating the whitelist, which will grow over time, but that should be much more manageable than trying to curate individual stories.
In the meantime, Ben Smith has an interesting article in the Columbia Journalism Review:
Leaders of the most important tech companies in the world are grappling with fake news, as embarrassing screenshots of bogus Trending Topics and Google News headlines go viral. The presidential campaign turned a spotlight on this viral disinformation, but it has been growing for a while in a crack in the media sidewalk. Over the last few months, it overran its surroundings: In fact, fake news drew more engagement on Facebook than real news as the election drew to a close.
In particular, fake news—that is, hoaxes and false and misleading stories from hyper-partisan and other sites—took advantage of the widening gap between the booming platforms and legacy media companies. The tech companies now inform more Americans than any other news outlet. BuzzFeed News is among the very few professional news outlets fully native to that ecosystem. Most media companies are still spending the vast bulk of their reporting resources on print, broadcast, or paywalled digital distribution that isn’t made for those spaces. Filling that gap is now a central challenge for media and tech companies: How can media companies do professional journalism that reaches audiences on the major platforms? And how can the giant platforms make that professional journalism worth their while?
This gap played out through the coverage of the 2016 election. Conventional political reporting did a pretty good job revealing facts about Donald Trump: Reporters from The New York Times and the Washington Post to BuzzFeed News and Politico and elsewhere challenged and tested the candidate and revealed much that he had tried to conceal—tax returns, views on Iraq, sexist comments, and unlikely policy claims.
This was a heated, competitive chase. Our political and investigative reporters celebrated when we got a scoop, and we kicked ourselves when great competitors beat us to these stories.
At the same time, another team of our reporters was at work in a cavernous space full of strange new figures, and very few professional journalists. This echoey new world—think of the Upside Down in Stranger Things—is the wide open digital news space, where linear television only exists when a clip goes viral, paywalled legacy media sites are largely absent, and a relative handful of outlets—fewer after a year that saw Gawker collapse, Gigaom vanish, Mashable step back, and much of the new investment go into video aggregation—engage in hand-to-hand combat over basic questions of truth and falsehood.
Here in the gap between the speed of the tech transformation and the recalcitrance of changing media there are gleeful trolls spreading manic, entertaining garbage. There are deep conspiracy theorists who believe in false flags and (((hidden hands))). And there are, perhaps most hallucinatory, Macedonian teenagers for whom feeding Trump supporters what they want to hear on sites like WorldPoliticus.com and TrumpVision365.com was a good way to make a few bucks. . .