Menlo Park, CA – This month, Facebook has started to roll out features designed to help impact the spread of fake news. These features were originally announced as a pilot back in December, but now it appears that they are operational for many users of the social platform.

The way it works is that it “flags” links to sites that have been known to produce misinformation and direct links to stories that have been disputed by third-party fact-checking organizations (ABC News, Politifact, FactCheck, and Snopes). These “flags” show up as a visual warning label attached to the link – picture hazard icon and message. Clicking on the warning message takes a reader directly to the fact-checking website.

So, what determines if a story get “flagged”? The tool has created functionality that allows Facebook users to report a post as fake or inaccurate. These stories, as well as any that have been earmarked by FB’s software (which it has been training to independently spot fake content) get elevated to the third-party checkers. If two of them agree that the story is bogus, the warning goes up.

And what happens when you try to spread some dubious content? Well, Mashable tried last week, and uncovered a few “speed bumps” designed to make a user think twice before sharing. First, you get hit with a polite pop-up that reads, “Sometimes people share fake news without knowing it. When independent fact-checkers dispute this content, you may be able to visit their websites to find out why.”

Ok. Everyone makes mistakes. Maybe you just didn’t see that glaring warning icon. Still time to turn back. But if you keep going, you’re met with another pop-up that states that the article’s accuracy is “disputed by multiple, independent fact-checkers”. And then if you still move forward and pull the trigger, Facebook doesn’t stop you, but your post will show up in the timeline with the red warning attached to it.

Why it matters – Whether they like it or not, Facebook has been one of the largest facilitators of the fake new phenomenon. The platform has made it possible for deceptive and even harmful content to be shared nearly instantly with millions of users. Their efforts to impact this issue—these new tools and features—will be watched closely, and if they achieve some level of success, may be a guide for other sites and platforms. As mentioned previously in this blog, fake news isn’t just about politics and policy. It has also invaded health and medicine, with numerous inaccuracies slipping through the cracks all of the time. Go-to medical sites that aggregate news from the world of health and even patient social communities may start to take Facebook’s approach. They may start to implement their own systems to validate the accuracy of content, calling upon readers or community members to be the first line of defense and even looking to trusted medical organizations for guidance and fact-checking.

About the Author:

Jeffrey Giermek