Facebook targets ‘false news’ amid growing pressure from advertisers

An advertisement that is part of the new Facebook social media literacy campaign

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Facebook’s new media literacy campaign will ask users questions about what they see online

Facebook is launching a campaign to help people spot fake news amid a growing advertising boycott that puts pressure on the company to face disinformation and hatred.

Steve Hatch, Facebook vice president for Northern Europe, says the media literacy campaign launched with FullFact fact correctors is proof 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 small, too late”.

The campaign will direct people to the StampOutFalseNews.com website and ask key questions to users about what they see online: “Where does it come from?” “What is missing?” and “How did you feel?”

Seven ways to stop fake news from going viral

In an exclusive interview with the BBC, Hatch says that “financial considerations” are not the basis for the new advertisements.

In recent days, over 150 companies, including Coca-Cola, Starbucks and Unilever, have announced the temporary cessation of advertising purchases on Facebook following the #StopHateForProfit campaign.

  • Could a boycott kill Facebook?

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Facebook’s Steve Hatch says the company is working on stopping coronavirus fakes

‘Night and day’

Disinformation or viral “fake news” has been a persistent problem for years on social networks, and has intensified dramatically since the emergence of Covid-19.

In May, a BBC investigation found links between coronavirus disinformation and assaults, arsenals and deaths, with potential – and potentially much greater – indirect damage caused by rumors, conspiracy theories and bad health advice.

  • The human cost of disinformation of the virus
  • The (almost) complete story of “fake news”

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

“If people shared information that could cause harm to the real world, we will eliminate it. We have done so in hundreds of thousands of cases,” he says.

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

“We saw Facebook trying to take reactive and often rather small measures to stem the tide of disinformation on the platform,” says Colliver. “But they have not been able to proactively produce policies that help prevent users from seeing misinformation, fake identities, fake accounts and false popularity on their platforms.” Facebook also owns Instagram and WhatsApp.

Under pressure

Facebook and other social media companies have also come under pressure on misleading information or comments that could spur violence, particularly posts by American President Donald Trump.

Following protests spread after the death of George Floyd, the President warned: “Any difficulty and we will take control, but when the looting begins, shooting begins.”

The post was hidden from Twitter to “glorify violence”, but remained on Facebook.

Hatch says that the posts of the President of the United States “are subject to a high level of control” by Facebook’s chiefs. Echoing the previous comments from CEO Mark Zuckerberg, he denied that the comment in question violated Facebook’s rules and stated that the company interpreted it as a reference to the possible use of National Guard troops.

“Whether you are a political figure or someone on the platform,” says Hatch, you will be scolded for sharing posts that could cause harm to the real world.

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