“Fake stories are like flash grenades. If you’re three days late on a fact check, you already missed the boat”

A recent excellent article from The Guardian tackles Facebook’s promise to fight fake news.  Facebook promised to tackle fake news. But the evidence shows it’s not working describes the social media giant’s inability to efficiently implement its fact checking system that relies on tagging news and prevent its spread, even if it relies on 3rd party organizations such as Associated Press, Snopes, ABC News and PolitiFact.

One key statement cited in the articles comes from Jestin Coler, a fake news writer who published highly viralized stories in websites such as NationalReport.net, USAToday.com.co, WashingtonPost.com.co:

“These stories are like flash grenades. If you’re three days late on a fact check, you already missed the boat”

In fact, this is why Facebook’s approach was doomed to fail from the beginning.
A lot of the approaches to debunk fake news that we have seen recently relies on fact checking organizations & groups that would focus on a specific event, such as an election, and then investigate articles that have an impact for the moment (trending) and debunk them. It is a honest but overoptimistic journalistic approach, for a phenomena that is not journalistic in nature and can be compared more to email spamming. Relying on the complex mechanisms of social media platforms.  combined with proven emotional responses, fake news articles are entities that are fairly easy to create, that become viral very fast and also fade away very fast, only to be resurrected after the collective memory has gone away.

Not catching fake news minutes or hours after it has been created is utterly pointless. A fake news article can get 2000 Facebook likes/hour and can gain hundreds of thousands of likes & shares in just a couple of days. Debunking the story after a week, writing an article on it has little to no impact, as the damage has already been done. And nobody reads retractions or errata anymore, does it?

Taking the manual approach, which I like to call “throwing people at a problem that requires a machine” yields no results and I am honestly surprised that Facebook took this approach. You cannot catch a flash grenade or a moving bullet (both quite good metaphors for fake news) requires intelligent, automated approaches, so that clickbait content can be prevented from viralization minutes before it is posted on Facebook and with no human intervention at all. Of course, this is not an easy challenge: it requires a fine understanding of all the elements that constitute fake news and clickbait that can be analyzed by a machine, it requires fast response time and adapting to new situations in real time.

The long term cost for Facebook for not tackling this issue in an effective way is losing trust from its user base. “I don’t believe it if you read it on Facebook” might just be a common phrase in the near future…

George Bara
Chief Strategy Officer – TrustServista.com
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