Facebook is showing red warning labels above fake news links in the News Feed for some users in what appears to be a limited test. TechCrunch attained this screenshot of the warning from a source. The warning reads “This website is not a reliable news source. Reason: Classification Pending” In some cases, ‘State-Sponsored News’ appears as a reason.
The warnings are one of the first visible demonstration of the approaches to fighting fake news that Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg laid out last month. We’ve reached out to Facebook with a request for comment and will update if we receive a response.
The fake news flag tests appear to have been running for over a week, though they seem to be vanishing from some users’ feeds as quickly as they appear. That behavior is in line with the way Facebook regularly tests new product features through limited, live rollouts to small swaths of its massive user base.
The warning message in the screenshot, highlighted in red, states “This website is not a reliable news source.” The instance above, which appeared live today, flagged a story from occupydemocrats.com, a website included on a widely circulated list of fake news sources. The headline reads “2,000 Veterans Just Arrived At Standing Rock To Form ‘Human Shield’ Around Protesters.” Notably, this particular news story checks out and was also picked up by The New York Times and Reuters, among other reliable fact-checking outlets. That indicates that Facebook is blacklisting entire sites rather than individual news stories.
Hacker news user ideonexus noted the same flag feature nine days ago:
“Coincidentally, I was on FB today and started seeing a red flag on two friends’ posts reading, “This website is not a reliable news source. Reason: [REASON]” with reasons like state-sponsored news and unclassified. The flag appeared on an article about Pokemon Go that was clearly sensationalist speculation and a conspiracy website about George Soros. The div tag in the post had a class “bsAlert” and, my favorite part, a poop icon beside it. None of my other friends are seeing the flag, so I suspect I’m one of the lucky A/B testers.”
Facebook has endured intense criticism for allowing fake news to proliferate on the News Feed, as some believe hoaxes and misleading stories helped Donald Trump get elected.. While at first the company was reluctant to admit fake news was a big problem, media pressure spurred it towards action.
It’s unclear how Facebook is classifying sites. It could be using user submitted reports, third-party verification partners, established lists of fake sites, or its own system that could involve human fact-checkers, algorithms, or both.
While fake news is a scourge that threatens an informed democracy, it would be risky for Facebook alone to become the truth police. Without proper transparency, that could lead to censorship and allegations of bias, as well as being an operational nightmare for the company. Working with outside verification services, media, or academic institutions could allow it to classify fake news without assuming full control of or responsibility for the decisions about what’s true.