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article imageFake news detector helps solve Facebook's problem, gets blocked

By James Walker     Dec 2, 2016 in Technology
A new browser extension that flags up fake news on Facebook can offer "helpful reminders" that not everything on the social network is genuine. After enjoying a short success, Facebook has blocked the tool, seemingly embarrassed by its results.
The Google Chrome extension is called B.S. Detector. It was created by Daniel Sieradski and has gained mainstream attention due to a news piece about the tool that ironically turned out to be fake.
Yesterday, reputable tech news site TechCrunch ran a story that suggested Facebook itself had built a fake news detector. It did not contact the company for confirmation, instead running an article based on a screenshot sent in "from a source." It quickly emerged the warnings weren't created by Facebook at all.
Sieradski's extension was behind the red "this website is not a reliable news source" notices. It remains unclear why users thought Facebook was testing its own feature. Somehow, fake news about a fake news detector appeared on TechCrunch's homepage though.
B.S. Detector has now been banned by Facebook in another ironic twist. So far, the extension has successfully achieved its flagging aims, been the subject of the fake news and then been blocked by Facebook for trying to clear up the company's mess. Sieradski described the events as "the meta-est of metas" in a new interview with Motherboard.
B.S. Detector fake news warning [Via TechCrunch]
B.S. Detector fake news warning [Via TechCrunch]
According to its creator, B.S. Detector has been installed over 25,000 times. Sieradski created it to disprove Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg's "fallacious" statements that the company is unable to act on fake news stories.
By building a simple browser extension on his own, Sieradski hoped to demonstrate to Facebook it could be doing more. Instead, the company simply blocked the plugin from its network, fuelling critics' arguments who believe Facebook still doesn't view fake news as a problem.
B.S. Detector is based on a list of domains compiled from "various sources" around the web. Sieradski is working with the community and a group of open source contributors to work out which sites should be flagged as fake. He's also reaching out to media watchdog groups for assistance in classifying sites, suggesting a partnership could help to reverse the fake news trend on social media.
Sieradski is being careful not to flag genuine news sites due to the occasional piece of inaccurate reporting. In the same way as TechCrunch inadvertently published a false article about B.S. Detector, Sieradksi recognised that everyone makes mistakes. B.S. Detector classifies whether a site should be treated as fake based on whether it holds itself to account when something does go wrong.
"They [Fox News] f*** up sometimes, and sometimes it's rather wilful, but it's not just a bunch of dudes sitting in their basements with tin foil hats on," Sieradski commented to Motherboard. "There are some systems of accountability in place for false reportage. The same goes for CNN. They f*** up sometimes, but their overall goal isn't to purposefully mislead the public."
B.S. Detector remains in development as a side project assisted by open source contributions. It's currently unknown whether Facebook will allow it to return but the extension remains active on third-party sites. It provides a warning whenever you visit a webpage containing potentially inaccurate content.
A browser extension that's solely available on Google Chrome won't solve the fake news epidemic. It does help to combat it though, demonstrating that identifying and filtering false headlines is possible if given the attention it needs.
It also proves that Facebook's engineering teams of hundreds should be able to create a far more advanced detector to flag up fake news across its network. Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg has previously promised "stronger detection" but is yet to deliver on his pledge to address the current issues with the platform. Banning successful third-party extensions won't help the company's image though, especially when considered alongside reports that fake news is now more popular than genuine articles.
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