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article imageHow fake news is changing social media and search online

By James Walker     Jun 9, 2017 in Internet
Fake news has been a stumbling point for internet companies since it came to the attention of the world last year. As the problem continues to spread, social networks and search providers are still devising ways of holding back and reversing the tide.
Fake news came to the forefront of public attention during last year’s US presidential campaign. Several analysts have suggested that the spread of false information online had an impact on the outcome of the election, although its influence is disputed.
Now almost seven months into 2017, publishers, search providers and social networks are still struggling to get a grasp on the situation. While all the major companies involved are now talking publicly about their fight against "alternative facts," fake news continues to be widely circulated online and shows no signs of significantly receding.
Clickbait and fake
Last month, Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg detailed more of his plans to drive fake news away from his platform. The company intends to bring back tactics previously used against clickbait to bury misleading and inaccurate articles.
The approach relies on using input from the community to guide algorithms towards automatic identification of fake news, facilitated by Facebook's new reporting buttons. They let users flag any post they believe contains or points to fake news.
The News Integrity Initiative will launch with $14 million from Facebook  the Ford Foundation  Mozil...
The News Integrity Initiative will launch with $14 million from Facebook, the Ford Foundation, Mozilla and others will work to combat the spread of "fake news" and improve public understanding of journalism
Justin TALLIS, AFP/File
The company has also introduced new methods of presenting different viewpoints on a story. It is currently rolling out a feature that places related articles from other publishers beneath News Feed stories.
Facebook is working with independent fact-checking organisations to further improve the accuracy of the content on its platform. The company began the broader expansion of these tools by bringing them to France a couple of months ago, aiming to avoid revisiting its U.S. election issues during 2017's French presidential election campaign.
Truth by education
The long-term strategy seems to be focused on educating users to better spot fake news. In turn, they'll then be able to assist algorithms to automatically identify suspect stories. The quality of the remaining articles will also be improved through the inclusion of third-party fact verification and links to related content from other viewpoints.
Looking at Facebook s news feed on a smartphone
Looking at Facebook's news feed on a smartphone
Day Donaldson
According to Facebook vice president of partnerships Dan Rose, fake news is "something that's really important to us." During the recent CODE Media conference, Rose reportedly acknowledged "there's a lot of work" left but noted Facebook is already seeing a reduction in the significance of fake news on its platform. Part of this has come from a company-wide redefinition of what its News Feed should stand for, enabling it to unite around a common starting point.
"News Feed is a place for authentic communication," Facebook stated in a recent news post. "Improving news literacy is a global priority, and we need to do our part to help people understand how to make decisions about which sources to trust. Fake news runs counter to our mission to connect people with the stories they find meaningful."
Cutting away revenue
It's not just Facebook that's been targeted by critics for allowing fake news to proliferate. Google has also come under fire, most visibly for positioning links to Holocaust denial articles prominently in its search results. It's embarking on its own campaign to mute the creators of fake news, notably banning misleading sites from its ad network.
This move is intended to cut the authors of fake news articles off from their income, eventually causing the sites to shut down. Facebook has also barred untrustworthy providers from its ad network, again aiming to force the websites offline. The two companies are both trying to demonstrate that they can make a stand against suspect publishers. Google has already withdrawn access to its AdSense network from over 200 websites.
Google promoting a fake news article to the top of its news results
Google promoting a fake news article to the top of its news results
According to industry experts, the fake news epidemic is being driven by economic incentives. In most cases, the often teenage owners of fake news websites are only looking to make money. As such, removing the support of ads could go a long way to solving the fake news problem.
There isn't usually recognition by fake news authors of the consequences of publishing false information. Very few set out with the intention of deliberately skewing political results. For many, there's a sense of pride that they can singlehandedly make money from Facebook, Google and other multinational companies simply by making things up.
"Facebook has created a great platform for the world to break news, share information, and be reunited from whichever part of the world," wrote search company Over The Top SEO in a blog post. "In doing that, it has also created an avenue for income creation, which is the sole driver of the hundreds of fake news sites. The site owners make up sensational stories, from which they earn an income simply through visitor clicks."
Cleaning up search
Besides placing fake news publishers under siege, Google is also developing new techniques to better flag controversial reports in its search results. The company has launched a "Fact Check" tag to emphasise reports verified by third-party organisations and debuted "Share the Facts" boxes to help prevent people spreading false information.
The improved search results presentation has been described as a "game changer" by some members of the industry. Search marketing firm Bruce Clay noted that Google has been forced into action after being criticised by its users. As customers have begun to demand more accurate information, the company has had no option but to invest in clearing up its results pages.
Web companies are being forced to tackle fake news
Web companies are being forced to tackle fake news
Kaboompics // Karolina / Pexels
"The bottom line is that Google needs to provide users with quality answers that accurately fulfil intent of their user' queries," the company wrote in a blog post.
Google is having to adjust its product to suit the reality of today's Internet. When Google was created, it based its search rankings on a variety of signals with the majority focused on popularity and links. As Magenta explains, this initially worked well, proving itself to be far more successful than the paid curation favoured by early search rival Altavista. In the years since, it's become clear there are flaws in Google's model that have allowed fake news to take root.
"The problem it [citations as a ranking signal] poses is obvious: Popularity doesn't equal credibility," wrote Magenta. "Just because lots of people believe something doesn't make it so, and just because lots of Internet users are sharing an article doesn't make it true."
The future: AI and users unite for the cause
Another growing way to combat fake news involves the introduction of AI-based technologies. Facebook, Google and third-party firms are all using artificial intelligence to programmatically determine whether an article's likely to be trustworthy. Other forms of software can automatically fact-check claims made in articles, add citations to reports lacking sources and assess the use and coherence of English to calculate authenticity.
AI is seeing increasing use as a weapon against fake news
AI is seeing increasing use as a weapon against fake news
Markus Spiske / Pexels
While AI is being increasingly deployed to tackle these issues, for now it remains an interesting development yet to see the limelight. AI can't currently determine newsworthiness on its own, which is why social networks like Facebook are relying on user input to guide their algorithms.
In the future, the level of automation will increase as investment in anti-fake news systems continues to grow. As public scrutiny mounts, the major platforms are stepping up their efforts to rid themselves of association with false facts. There's still work to do, but it's possible a healthier media industry could grow out of the fake news epidemic, one empowered by a renewed interest in reality, citations and the reliability of truth.
More about fake news, alternative facts, Search, Social media, Seo
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