Karen Fratti
January 21, 2018 4:06 pm
Bloomberg / Getty Images

In an attempt to address their fake news problem in the wake of the 2016 presidential election, Facebook is asking users to rank what news sources are trustworthy. Mark Zuckerberg, CEO and founder of the social network, explained the idea in a blog post. He said that there’s too much “sensationalism, misinformation and polarization in the world today.” Nowadays, people can spread information on Facebook with just the click or tap of a button. And when it’s actual fake news, that’s a big problem.

Zuckerberg added that Facebook will ask a “diverse and representative” sample of its users to respond to surveys asking if they’ve ever heard of a news outlet and how much they trust it. In response, outlets with more trustworthy reputations will be distributed more widely on peoples’ timelines, while others might get less activity.

“The hard question we’ve struggled with is how to decide what news sources are broadly trusted in a world with so much division,” Zuckerberg wrote in a post. “We could try to make that decision ourselves, but that’s not something we were comfortable with. We considered asking outside experts, which would take the decision out of our hands but would likely not solve the objectivity problem.”

It’s a step in fighting fake news. But will it cause more harm than good?

Although Zuckerberg has a lot of faith in his users, critics aren’t so sure that this is the best way.

Admittedly, there are quite a few obvious problems with this approach.

For one, it clears Facebook of any ethical responsibility for what gets shared on its site.

The network has already drawn criticisms for not filtering fake news stories (or racist memes) better. And this seems to be a way of taking care of the problem without actually having to make any real decisions about things.

It’s similar to Twitter’s response when asked about controlling for racist, sexist, and misleading trolls on its network. Social networks, at the end of the day, are businesses. And taking a stance on issues would alienate people. Even if those issues are made up by fanatics or fake news sites with white supremacist biases.

Whatever Facebook’s intentions are, asking users to rate news sites is rife with potential issues.

For one, the popularity of fake news being spread around social media is, in a major way, attributed to people not being able to gauge whether a news site is real or created by a bot. Asking a “diverse and representative” portion of their community to rate sites means that someone might not know about certain lesser-known but still entirely credible websites.

Fake news spreads because of bias. And asking the same people, with the same biases, to fix the problem might not be the best way.

Then again, who knows, right?

We definitely don’t know how to fix the fake news problem on Facebook. Judging from what we’ve seen go down in our newsfeeds, though, giving all the power to the most active users doesn’t necessarily mean giving power to the people who want what’s best for the social network or, well, facts. Let’s hope it works.

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