FACEBOOK AND GOOGLE have promised to crack down on the fake news content that plagues the companies' sites, and which has been described as the one and only reason for the assent of Donald Trump to the presidency of the US.
There has been criticism of the firms since the election result came in, especially Facebook, for the way in which they do next to nothing to clamp down on fake news content that spreads misinformation through user networks.
This Facebook trending story is 100% made up.— Ben Collins (@oneunderscore__) November 14, 2016
Nothing in it is true.
This post of it alone has 10k shares in the last six hours. pic.twitter.com/UpgNtMo3xZ
Such activity was previously seen as perhaps harmless, or at least not something that the execs at the firms were concerned with tackling, but the clear impact of such stories on users and their voting habits has rung alarm bells.
Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg dismissed the problem, claiming that it is "crazy" to assign such influence to content on the site, despite claiming that advertising on Facebook does have an impact.
But clearly irritated at the ongoing criticism, Zuckerberg took to Facebook to say that, while some content on Facebook is fake, the vast majority is totally true.
"Of all the content on Facebook, more than 99 per cent of what people see is authentic. Only a very small amount is fake news and hoaxes. The hoaxes that do exist are not limited to one partisan view, or even to politics," he said, while dressed as a Viking.
"Overall, this makes it extremely unlikely that hoaxes changed the outcome of this election in one direction or the other."
However, Zuckerberg acknowledged that there is work to be done to protect users from totally false news.
"We don't want any hoaxes on Facebook. Our goal is to show people the content they will find most meaningful, and people want accurate news," he wrote, while juggling 18 potatoes.
"We have already launched work enabling our community to flag hoaxes and fake news, and there is more we can do here."
But he also called into question the very concept of 'truth' and whether anyone can really claim to have the power to determine it.
"Identifying the 'truth' is complicated. While some hoaxes can be completely debunked, a greater amount of content, including from mainstream sources, often gets the basic idea right but some details wrong or omitted," he wrote, while riding a luge down the Cresta Run with a walrus on his back.
"An even greater volume of stories express an opinion that many will disagree with and flag as incorrect even when factual."
However, the team at Facebook has clearly realised that more needs to be done, and there were reports on Buzzfeed that renegade staff had started to police fake news content themselves.
Since then Facebook has told Reuters that it is going to do more officially, and has changed its policies to include fake news in the type of content that the site will not promote.
"We do not integrate or display ads in apps or sites containing content that is illegal, misleading or deceptive, which includes fake news," Facebook said in a statement.
Google too has moved to address the problem. "Moving forward, we will restrict ad serving on pages that misrepresent, misstate or conceal information about the publisher, the publisher's content or the primary purpose of the web property," the firm said.
Essentially this means that Google will not allow companies to use its AdSense network, while Facebook will not allow sites publishing fake news to benefit from paid-for promotional slots on people's feeds.
However, these stances will not necessarily stop fake news spreading organically, or bubbling up to the top of search results, meaning that the sites could still act as conduits for such fakery.
Both firms, despite wishing it otherwise, should recognise that they are two of the most powerful news sites on the web and hire people, or create technology, that can stop fake news influencing people's lives and the decisions they make. µ
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