Gizmodo seems to have been first to spot the quiet debut on Friday of Facebook’s new ‘Disputed’ tag, which will appear beneath news stories on the site that have been deemed inaccurate.
Facebook has also added a new Help page outlining how the system works. Following proposals laid out in recent months, Facebook says that stories flagged as fake by users will be reviewed by independent fact-checking organizations including Politifact and Snopes.com.
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Those organizations will be signatories to a “Fact-checkers’ Code of Principles” maintained by the journalism nonprofit Poynter Institute. The principles include nonpartisanship and transparency in sourcing and funding.
There’s no indication yet whether the ‘Disputed’ designation will have a direct impact on how a story is handled by Facebook’s ranking algorithms. At least in theory, users should be less likely to share stories with the tag, reducing their spread—though as Recode points out, the flagging process itself can take several days, giving plenty of time for a story to make the rounds.
That’s just one obvious imperfection of a system that seems destined to fully satisfy precisely nobody, Facebook included. Despite huge public pressure to tackle fake news, particularly from the political left, Facebook has no real motivation to tell its readers what to believe. From a business perspective, filtering or flagging disputed news stories could reduce user engagement among those who had previously enjoyed a steady diet of alternative facts. Gizmodo points out that move has already invited scathing criticism from right, potentially actively alienating a huge swathe of Facebook users.
It also remains to be seen exactly how effective the tool will be. One of the stories spotted by Gizmodo came from Theseattletribune.com, a classic click-farming website with a newspaper-ish name, which does tuck away a description of itself as ‘satire.’ Facebook’s ‘disputed’ tag will really have its work cut out for it when it’s time to adjudicate something from less openly deceptive outlets.