James Walker

James Walker

Web Developer

How fake news is changing social media and search online

Published on Sunday June 18 2017 at 09:38 in News Editorials

Fake news has been a stumbling point for internet companies since it came to the attention of the world last year. As the problem continues to spread, social networks and search providers are still devising ways of holding back and reversing the tide. In this report, I look at how fake news has proliferated and the methods social networks and search engines are using to combat the threat.

Fake news came to the forefront of public attention during last year’s US presidential campaign. Several analysts have suggested that the spread of false information online had an impact on the outcome of the election, although its influence is disputed.

Now almost seven months into 2017, publishers, search providers and social networks are still struggling to get a grasp on the situation. While all the major companies involved are now talking publicly about their fight against "alternative facts," fake news continues to be widely circulated online and shows no signs of significantly receding.

In April, Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg detailed more of his plans to drive fake news away from his platform. The company intends to bring back tactics previously used against clickbait to bury misleading and inaccurate articles.

The approach relies on using input from the community to guide algorithms towards automatic identification of fake news, facilitated by Facebook's new reporting buttons. They let users flag any post they believe contains or points to fake news.

The company has also introduced new methods of presenting different viewpoints on a story. It is currently rolling out a feature that places related articles from other publishers beneath News Feed stories.

The long-term strategy seems to be focused on educating users to better spot fake news. In turn, they'll then be able to assist algorithms to automatically identify suspect stories. The quality of the remaining articles will also be improved through the inclusion of third-party fact verification and links to related content from other viewpoints.

Google is developing new techniques to better flag controversial reports in its search results. The company has launched a "Fact Check" tag to emphasise reports verified by third-party organisations and debuted "Share the Facts" boxes to help prevent people spreading false information.

Another growing way to combat fake news involves the introduction of AI-based technologies. Facebook, Google and third-party firms are all using artificial intelligence to programmatically determine whether an article's likely to be trustworthy. Other forms of software can automatically fact-check claims made in articles, add citations to reports lacking sources and assess the use and coherence of English to calculate authenticity.

While AI is being increasingly deployed to tackle these issues, for now it remains an interesting development yet to see the limelight. AI can't currently determine newsworthiness on its own, which is why social networks like Facebook are relying on user input to guide their algorithms.

Enjoyed this extract? Read my full report, which contains much more detail on the methods used to combat the fake news epidemic, on Digital Journal!