As part of its ongoing battle to fight fake news on its platform, Facebook rolled out several features April 3 that are intended to better inform users about the content they see in their News Feed. But, as with some of the company’s other recent efforts to curb the dissemination of false information, it falls short.
Some news articles shared on Facebook will now have an “i” icon that tells you more about the publisher; shows you where in the world the article had been shared, along with more articles from the same outlet; and a way to see if your friends have also shared the story. The company tested the first two features last year, and the latter two are brand new.
But there are several issues with this effort to provide users with more context. For one, the information about the publisher comes from Wikipedia. While the internet encyclopedia has become an increasingly reliable source of information, it’s still crowdsourced, and can be edited to suit one bias or another. Wikipedia’s entry for Breitbart News immediately informs readers that the right-wing outlet has in the past published falsehoods, but the entry for Quartz, when it’s shown on Facebook, says very little about the publication. What’s more, the rollout seems inconsistent—some of Quartz’s articles have the “i” icon, others do not.
Video posts, which are often a prime vehicle for fake news, as they were during the Las Vegas shooting in 2017, do not appear to have the icon whatsoever. A Facebook spokesperson told Quartz the company hopes to bring the features to other types of content in the future. It’s still in the process of rolling out a function that lets users flag video posts as fake news.
It’s also unclear which outlets get the “i” icon, and which do not. For example, InfoWars, a media company that is a well-known purveyor of conspiracy theories, does not appear to have the icon on its posts. That means the user would have to leave Facebook to determine the source’s trustworthiness, which defeats the purpose of the feature. Other right-wing conspiracy sites, like Gateway Pundit, also do not have an “i” icon. Both of these sites have Wikipedia pages.
A Facebook spokesperson only said the modules appear under an article based on the “availability” of information from Wikipedia. They attributed the discrepancies for where the “i” appears for only some articles by one organization to the rollout’s gradual character, and said the company hopes to increase its coverage in coming weeks. They did not say how the platform determined which news organizations or media companies are included in feature.
Given how inconsistently these tools are being rolled out across the platform, it’s difficult to see how effective they could be in their current form.
This is just the latest Facebook experiment in its fight against fake news. After it turned out that marking disputed articles with red flags was counterproductive, it introduced “Related Articles,” a feature meant to provide users with more sources of information on a given topic. In another awkward effort, Facebook started prioritizing comments that expressed disbelief in shared stories—which ended up with legitimate news sources being decried as fake.
Meanwhile, disinformation on the platform continues to spread.