In response to recent concerns about “fake news” and opinion-swaying hoaxes, Facebook has unveiled new measures to address the issue. But unless done right, these steps may create more problems than they solve — and boost claims that the “fake news crisis” is an attempt to impose political controls on the media.
One Facebook measure gives power to consumers themselves: Anyone will be able to report a hoax by clicking the upper right hand corner of a post.
This may accomplish some good, but the potential for abuse is immediately obvious. People can flood the system with fake reports of fake news, either to punish websites and news organizations they dislike or to subvert the fake-news-flagging process itself.
More than a few people on the right and the “anti-establishment” left will get a huge kick out of slapping the “fake news” label on The New York Times, The Washington Post or CNN.
However, Facebook’s main mechanism for “fake news” oversight will be a program involving third-party fact-checkers. These organizations will check stories submitted as “fake” by readers. If they are, in fact, determined to be fake, they will be flagged as “disputed by third parties.”
People will see the “disputed” warning when they are about to share a link to such a story and will be encouraged to read the fact-checking report. Opportunities for advertising revenue from “disputed” news items will be severely limited as well.
Of course, that brings us to the great question first posed by the Roman satirical poet Juvenal some 2000 years ago: Who will watch the watchmen?
Indeed, conservatives have long claimed that fact-checking was riddled with anti-conservative bias and even conflicts of interest (as when PolitiFact, one of Facebook’s six United States-based fact-checkers, shot down a critique of a Clinton Foundation initiative without disclosing that one of that program’s principal funders was a major donor to PolitiFact’s parent organization, the Poynter Institute).
Conservatives argue that most fact-checking is opinion dressed up in the mantle of “Just the facts” — a blatant liberal attempt to control the discourse. CONTINUE