Facebook as a credible news source, readers beware

REUTERS/Mariana Bazo/File Photo Mark Zuckerberg gestures while addressing the audience during a meeting of the APEC (Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation) CEO Summit in Lima, Peru, November 19, 2016.

Murissa Barrington

BIZ/TECH REPORTER

Fake news has been in the spotlight following President-elect Donald Trump’s upset victory over Democratic candidate Hillary Clinton in the U.S. presidential election.

University of Guelph-Humber justice studies student Cristina Paonessa has noticed an increase of fake stories on Facebook.

“I think for the person who is the subject of the fake story, it might actually upset them and it might end up destroying their career,” Paonessa said.

Facebook has been facing major backlash over the possibility that fake news on the site influenced American voters in the presidential election. Examples included a false account of the Pope endorsing Donald Trump, an invented tale of someone who was going to testify against Hillary Clinton being killed and completely made-up quotes ascribed to both candidates.

On Nov. 18, Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg addressed the backlash in a post on the site, stating that the company has been looking into the situation for some time and takes misinformation seriously. It was a turnabout for Zuckerberg as a week prior he denied Facebook had any influence on the U.S. elections, calling the idea “crazy.”

In the post, Zuckerberg also laid out some of Facebook’s plans to tackle the number of fake articles. Employing third-party verification of articles was one of the ideas, along with putting warning labels on news with potentially false information.

Zuckerberg also said the site will make it easier for users to flag posts that contain fake stories but also asserted that they will need to be careful not to discourage sharing opinions or “mistakenly restrict accurate content.”

Humber College web development professor Bernie Monette says solutions like the ones Zuckerberg provided will be extremely difficult to pull off.

“The one thing I like is users being able to flag false news. The problem, of course, is, what if it is not false?” Monette asked. “While I appreciate that Facebook wants to get in front of this, I think their efforts would be more valuable if they sponsored lessons on teaching people how behave safely online, or figured out a way of punishing false news providers.

“Even then, we start getting into censorship, which is also problematic,” he said.

Monette says it’s hard to say whether the recent criticism of Facebook is deserved, pointing out Facebook currently provides a service to millions of people.

He said the individual is responsible for making sense of the messages they receive online.

Writers from news outlets like The New York Times and The Toronto Star have published Op-Eds about whether the increase of fake news could negatively impact the future of real journalism.

CBC news reporter Stephanie Matteis said seeing the growth of fake news as a journalist is upsetting.

“One of the principles of journalism is truth and we journalists build our reputations and credibility on that,” Matteis said. “So the fact that there have been these fake news stories perpetuated and shared and have changed the course of history is upsetting.”

Matteis, who is also a Guelph-Humber journalism professor, said there is some truth to the idea fake stories influenced voters in the U.S. presidential election. She points out though, that the same could be said about Facebook as a whole.

“We know that statistically about 40 per cent of people get their news from Facebook. So is there some truth to the fact that it would have had an influence over the American people during the election? For sure,” Matteis said.

“But so would any other conversation that they would be having on social media about the election…so not necessarily just the news articles but everything,” Matteis said. “Facebook in general is a huge influencer.”

She said fake news stories being shared isn’t journalism and shouldn’t be confused as such. If a person wants to make sure they’re reading legitimate news, people should find a credible source, Matteis said.

“If you still go to credible news sources for your news, you should be able to trust that you’re getting good journalism,” she said.

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