Facebook targets ‘fake news’ amid growing pressure from advertisers

Facebook is launching a campaign to help people spot fake news amid a growing advertising boycott, putting pressure on the company to deal with misinformation and hate speech.

Steve Hatch, Facebook’s vice president for northern Europe, says the media literacy campaign launched with FullFact fact verifiers is evidence that the company is “listening and adapting”.

But some experts and critics argue that the effort in the UK, Europe, Africa and the Middle East is “too little, too late”.

The campaign will direct people to StampOutFalseNews.com and ask users key questions about what they see online: “Where are you from?” “What’s missing?” and “How did you feel?”

Seven ways to prevent fake news from going viral

In an exclusive interview with the BBC, Hatch says that “financial considerations” are not behind the new ads.

In the past few days, more than 150 companies – including Coca-Cola, Starbucks and Unilever – have announced temporary interruptions in advertising purchases on Facebook as a result of the #StopHateForProfit campaign.

Facebook's Steve Hatch says the company is working to stop coronavirus fakes
Source: BBC

‘Night and day’

Viral misinformation or “fake news” has been a persistent problem for years on the social network, and has increased dramatically after the emergence of Covid-19.

In May, a BBC investigation found links between erroneous information and coronavirus attacks, fires and deaths, with potential – and potentially much greater – indirect damage caused by rumors, conspiracy theories and poor health advice.

Hatch says Facebook employees work “day and night” to fight false claims during the pandemic.

“If people share information that can cause harm in the real world, we will remove it. We have done this in hundreds of thousands of cases,” he says.

But the media literacy effort is “too late,” says Chloe Colliver, head of the digital research unit at the Institute for Strategic Dialogue, a think tank on extremism.

“We saw Facebook trying to take reactive and often very small measures to stem the tide of disinformation on the platform,” says Colliver. “But they have failed to proactively produce policies that help prevent users from seeing misinformation, fake identities, fake accounts and fake popularity on their platforms.” Facebook also has Instagram and WhatsApp.

Under pressure

Facebook and other social media companies are also under pressure for misleading information or comments that could incite violence, in particular posts by U.S. President Donald Trump.

After widespread protests after George Floyd’s death, the President warned: “Any difficulty and we will take control, but when the looting begins, the shooting will begin.”

The post was hidden by Twitter for “glorifying violence”, but remained on Facebook.

Hatch says the posts by the U.S. president “are under a high level of scrutiny” by Facebook bosses. Echoing previous comments by Chief Executive Mark Zuckerberg, he denied that the comment in question violates Facebook rules and said the company interpreted it as a reference to the possible use of National Guard troops.

“Whether you’re a political figure or someone on the platform,” says Hatch, you will be reprimanded for sharing posts that can cause harm in the real world.

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