Facebook Says it Will Fight Fake News—Now Comes the Hard Part

Mark Zuckerberg
In this Saturday, March 19, 2016, file photo, Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg speaks during a panel discussion held as part of the China Development Forum at the Diaoyutai State Guesthouse in Beijing. Zuckerberg is meeting with conservative leaders, including radio host Glenn Beck, on Wednesday, May 18, 2016, in light of a report that Facebook downplays conservative news subjects in its "Trending Topics" feature. Facebook has denied the claims, but Zuckerberg said the company is investigating it nonetheless. (AP Photo/Mark Schiefelbein, File)
Mark Schiefelbein—AP

After weeks of denying that the spread of viral “fake news” stories was a problem that it needed to be concerned about, Facebook (FB) has finally announced some concrete measures designed to blunt the force of hoaxes and misinformation, including a partnership with external fact-checking organizations who call out fakes. Now comes the hard part.

Within hours of the announcement on Thursday—which involves making it easier for users to flag fakes, as well as alerting readers when the accuracy of a story has been called into question—conservative outlets were already dismissing the move as a conspiracy of left-leaning partisans, designed to smother alternative sources and protect existing “gatekeepers.”

Snopes, for example, which has been fact-checking dubious Internet stories for over two decades, was dismissed by some as a “far-left group,” as was fellow verification site Politifact. Others even criticized Facebook as a whole for being a left-leaning entity (which might come as a surprise to board member Peter Thiel, a Trump adviser).

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All of this helps explain why Facebook didn’t want to wade into this issue in the first place, not to mention why it resists being defined as a media company so strenuously (although it clearly is one). Facebook likes things that are neat and tidy, like algorithms—not things that are all muddy and gray and complicated, like defining what constitutes fake news.

Unfortunately, that is the world we all live in now, and it is the world in which Facebook has become one of the leading sources of news for large numbers of people.

It may not be pretty, and it may not be something that a bunch of twenty-somethings with math and computer science degrees are equipped to fix. But that doesn’t change the fact that Facebook is in it up to its eyeballs. It is either going to be part of the solution, or it is going to be part of the problem.

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