Facebook Drowns Out Fake News With More Information

By Deepa Seetharaman Features Dow Jones Newswires

Facebook Inc. is fighting misinformation with more information.

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Starting Thursday, when Facebook's U.S. users come across popular links--including made-up news articles--in their feeds, they may also see a cluster of other articles on the same topic. The "related articles" feature, which will roll out widely in the U.S. after months of testing, is part of Facebook's strategy to limit the damage of false news without censoring those posts.

In recent months, Facebook has launched features such as "related articles" that push users to think twice before sharing a story, but don't prevent them from sharing and thus spreading false news. Facebook has also partnered with outside fact-checkers like Snopes.com, who label stories as false from a Facebook-built database of possibly false news articles.

The tweaks show Facebook's efforts to reduce the presence of misinformation on its platform, without going so far as censoring it, a role it says it doesn't want.

Last year, Facebook came under fire for failing to prevent the spread of fabricated news articles during the 2016 U.S. presidential race, despite being a dominant platform for news consumption.

After initially resisting criticism, Chief Executive Mark Zuckerberg eventually acknowledged Facebook's responsibility to curb misinformation, but said he was wary of Facebook becoming what he calls the "arbiters of truth."

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Facebook's approach to fighting misinformation mirrors that of Alphabet Inc.'s Google, which is also working with fact-checkers and recently retooled its search engine to prevent sites peddling fake news, hoaxes and conspiracy theories from appearing in its top results.

In a lengthy corporate manifesto posted in February, Mr. Zuckerberg said Facebook "would focus less on banning misinformation, and more on surfacing additional perspectives and information, including that fact checkers dispute an item's accuracy."

The "related articles" feature automatically shows up on stories that have been flagged as false by fact checkers working with Facebook, but also on some legitimate stories that are going viral. Facebook hopes the feature will make it easier for people to break out of their filter bubbles and see other views.

Facebook has also been adjusting its news feed algorithms to help demote fake stories, as it did in June when it started punishing accounts that routinely post 50 links a day because they tend to share "low quality content" like misinformation.

In coming months, Facebook says it plans to rely more heavily on fact checkers, who have the power to mark false stories as "disputed." If two or more do so, the article will show up lower in users' news feeds.

Facebook recently started paying its fact-checking partners, according to a spokeswoman who declined to specify amounts. Fact checkers will start seeing more articles in their queues.

Facebook has also started using fact checkers' rulings to improve its algorithms for predicting whether a story is potentially false, the spokeswoman added. Those articles will be sent to fact checkers who determine their accuracy.

Write to Deepa Seetharaman at Deepa.Seetharaman@wsj.com

(END) Dow Jones Newswires

August 03, 2017 06:14 ET (10:14 GMT)