Facebook, Congress Take First Steps in ‘Fake News’ Crackdown

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By Emily Zanotti | 3:58 pm, December 12, 2016

There’s some real news on the fake-news front.

Facebook is now starting to roll out features designed to help its users identify the “fake news” it claims are taking over news feeds, while Congress is taking legislative steps to crack down on “propaganda” websites that traffic in false narratives.

Last week, Facebook began placing single-question polls below select news stories, asking users whether they felt the headline was reflective of the news story itself, and whether users found those stories truthful.

The purpose, said Facebook, is to identify instances of “misleading language” so that they can better identify so-called “fake news.”

They refused to release details of the project, but told TechCrunch that it’s an official effort. And while they did not say exactly what data is being compiled from these surveys, they did say that they’re testing the “general quality” of their news feed, and that the effort is similar to one Facebook used to identify and rid the platform of “clickbait” headlines and articles.

Facebook is clearly hoping that users who find fake news in their feeds can identify and report it, even though Facebook’s main “fake news” problem stems from users who share the articles without verifying the news source. To help compensate for user error, Facebook says it’s developing an artificial intelligence program it can deploy to “flag” troublesome links.

Congress, meanwhile, is quietly taking on the issue in its Lame Duck session, but is focusing its sights on foreign news sources looking to spread “propaganda” to American consumers.

Sen. Rob Portman and Sen. Chris Young announced that the Senate had passed the Portman-Murphy Counter-Propaganda Bill on Friday, as part of the National Defense Authorization Act. It allows the federal government to crack down on any “foreign government propaganda from Russia, China or other nations,” including “fake news” websites.

Murphy himself touted the new power as unprecedented, and cited Russia, specifically, as a target.

“Congress has taken a big step in fighting back against fake news and propaganda from countries like Russia,” he noted in his press release. “When the president signs this bill into law, the United States will finally have a dedicated set of tools and resources to confront our adversaries’ widespread efforts to spread false narratives that undermine democratic institutions and compromise America’s foreign policy goals.”

It’s not clear, under either the private Facebook measure or the public Congressional one, that targeted news organizations will have an appeals or recourse process if they’re ultimately tagged as “fake news,” which could pose a Constitutional problem.