Facebook has about 1.8 billion users worldwide on their social media site. They say that about half of these users use the site as their number one source for news. I myself can vouch for them on that one. Most mornings, the first thing I do when I wake up is check Facebook. Admittedly, it’s not to see what my Facebook friends are getting up to. It’s to see what’s going on in the world. Being a news site ourselves, we can see the power and importance of social media, but some fake news pages are taking advantage.
The new media
Media pages provide Facebook with most of its revenue. This is thanks to advertising. The same goes for Google. Advertisers pay Google or Facebook to show their ads. They then pay a portion of that revenue to the page the ad comes up on if something is purchased through that page.
But a lot of websites are taking advantage of this by posting fake news stories. Some are claiming this could have swayed the result in the American Presidential election. For example, take the headline “Donald Trump goes for dinner in a restaurant.” It’s a relatively boring headline and you’re not going to click on it. So the advertisers are wasting money placing the ad on this page and the site itself isn’t going to make any revenue.
But if you see the headline “Donald Trump shaves his head bald”, you won’t be able to resist. You’re going to want to see his famous gravity-defying hair shaved off. The advertisers will make more money from this headline because more people click it. It’s all about that click.
These stories can quickly take off. One story emerged during the election campaign where Pope Francis had endorsed Trump. This is where the problem lies. People are making up news to try and increase their revenue. Facebook and Google are having none of it.
Patrolling the internet for fake news
On Monday, the internet giants announced that they will not tolerate such misinformation on their sites. Google got the ball rolling saying that they will ban such sites taking advantage of their advertising service. Soon after, Facebook updated their ads policy. This already stated they will not display ads on sites that display false information.
“We have updated the policy to explicitly clarify that this applies to fake news,” a spokesperson said in a statement. “Our team will continue to closely vet all the prospective publishers and monitor existing ones to ensure compliance.”
The tech giants already monitor the problem. But with the numbers the site generates, it’s difficult to catch all the scammers.
“The goal of search is to provide the most relevant and useful results for our users,” a Google spokesperson of Google said. “We are continually working to improve our algorithms.” For some time, Google has had policies in place prohibiting fake ads like weight-loss tablets and counterfeit goods.
Their policy will rely on both automated and human reviews to help determine the fake from the real stories. Satire sites like The Onion and a Waterford Whispers clearly imply that their news stories are fake and are not meant to be taken seriously.
Facebook owner Mark Zuckerberg said that 99% of news stories are true and fobbed off that fake stories influenced the election. Still, there is a clear danger of people not clicking through bogus headlines and reading full stories. This clip from John Oliver compliments this real problem nicely.