Disrupting the fake news cycle

Ah, fake news, you entered our lives only two years ago, like a chipped tooth, irritating but containable, now you’ve turned into full-blown tooth decay, and we just can’t have nice things any more.

Facebook implemented changes this week to the way external content appears on its site in a response to the domination of fake news stories in last year’s American presidential election. Until last week, a link would produce a preview with metadata pulled from the content source that could be edited, perhaps to change the way a headline is presented, or delete some of the preview content. We would use this for clients’ Facebook posts, to avoid repeating content in the preview that is already in the post, to pick the most appropriate image, to overwrite the brief content preview to highlight important event dates and information. It was a fine system, it suited us well, but fake news had to spoil it all.

Unfortunately, not everyone would use this feature for something as simple tidying up information before being posted. With 62% of Americans getting their news from social media, the simple editing tool helped spawn the fake news phenomenon…

Step 1
Link to a BBC article, a CNN article, a Failing New York Times article in Facebook, the content preview appears. That article could be about an accusation, or the possibility that a politician has done something wrong

Step 2
Alter the Facebook preview to suggest that said politician has definitely done something wrong. The alteration will be validated by the link to the source, and any logos that might pull through.

Step 3
Your followers may only see the headline and take it as gospel because they trust the source, some may click on it and only read the first few lines which might seem to back up the altered headline but not bother to digest the whole story (the woes of TL:DR).

Step 4
Your followers repost the story, perhaps with a comment at how outraged they are by the headline.

Step 5
With the fake news outrage bus at full pelt, another news source (no matter how credible) can report the news of these headlines, suddenly a politician or blogger or supposedly legitimate news source can affix “it has been reported that…” to the story and a falsehood has traction.

Step 6
Step 5’s news story gets posted unedited and shared as a legitimate story.

In our social media round-up, we’ve mentioned a couple of stories about the fake news phenomenon that have caught our attention, including last week’s news that scientists have created an AI that can almost perfectly manipulate video to make a protagonist say whatever you want with perfectly synched lips and facial expressions, posing a worrying threat to the trust we place in seemingly unedited video. This change to Facebook is a small change (and perhaps a pain for a PR who wants to post their clients’ content in the most presentable way they can), but if it contributes to disrupting the fake news cycle that has damaged the credibility and trustworthiness of content in recent years, then we applaud the effort.

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