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Facebook tweaks news feed to crack down on hoaxes and spam

Facebook is cracking down on hoaxes with changes to its news feed that will ensure its users see less hoax and spam posts, while providing a warning of their potential falsity. Yes, hoaxes are a big problem on the internet and Facebook is making its users the hoax police.

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Jackie Chan was once killed by Facebook, not quite, but the hoax was posted on Facebook. It was shared widely and his die-hard fans believed it. It took him to announce that he was alive. He posted a picture holding a newspaper with the current date.

Bill Gates also gave away US$5000 if Facebook users shared his Facebook photo. There are many examples like these.

Some hoaxes are quite harmless but others no so much. Other hoaxes bait people into clicking through to malware ridden websites.
With the new changes on the news feed feature, Facebook will reduce the number of hoaxes that its users see.

“Today’s update to News Feed reduces the distribution of posts that people have reported as hoaxes and adds an annotation to posts that have received many of these types of reports to warn others on Facebook,” explained Facebook software engineer Erich Owens and research scientist Udi Weinsberg in a blog post announcing the changes.

“We’ve heard from people that they want to see fewer stories that are hoaxes, or misleading news.”

Read more: Is Facebook about to set up a Johannesburg office? [Updates]

Recently, Facebook introduced the ability to report any post as being a “false news story”. Those reports will now be taken into account by Facebook’s news feed algorithm as it determines which posts are displayed on users’ news feeds.

Posts that have received lots of reports as being hoaxes will now have a message that reads: “Many people on Facebook have reported that this story contains false information” when they do appear in people’s feeds.

There is no doubt that this feature opens itself up for abuse but Owens and Weinsberg are quick to point out that they’ve “found from testing that people tend not to report satirical content intended to be humorous, or content that is clearly labelled as satire. This type of content should not be affected by this update. The vast majority of publishers on Facebook will not be impacted by this update. A small set of publishers who are frequently posting hoaxes and scams will see their distribution decrease.”

The feature needs to be a lot smarter than say a post is taken off because a large number of people agree on it. Facebook’s response to complaints about posts from users has not been great. How it will implement this new feature and not open itself up for abuse will be interesting to follow.

Over the past few months, there has been talks about Facebook moving towards being a publisher, and a move like this appears to be moving in that direction. This if one looks at it a form of curating content and that is publishing. However, Facebook, continues to insist that it is not a publishing platform.

“We are not removing stories people report as false and we are not reviewing content and making a determination on its accuracy,” claimed the blog post.

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