Facebook Removes 'Disputed' Tag Option for Potentially Fake News Stories After the Warning Backfired

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December 21, 2017

Facebook announced on Thursday that it is ridding the site of the "disputed" tag, which was implemented earlier this year in an effort to help alert readers to potentially false news stories and reduce the spread of "fake news."

The social networking company said putting the red flag to indicate inaccurate stories may have had an inverse effect than that intended. The flag may have actually reinforced users’ "deeply held beliefs" rather than achieving the goal of creating an environment of critical thinking, according to Gizmodo.

Instead of flagging the article as "disputed," Facebook will now populate new feeds with additional "related articles," which, Facebook says, "is a more effective way to help people get to the facts."

In an article on Medium by Facebook’s Jeff Smith, the news feed product designer says tests have shown hoax articles were shared fewer times when the "related articles" treatment was implemented than when the "disputed" tag was included with content.

"Related articles" will be used in conjunction with Facebook’s already existing strategy where machine learning identifies questionable stories to pass onto human fact-checkers.

After going through fact-checkers, if a story is deemed fake, Facebook can then deprioritize the story in the news feeds, which ideally would lead to a reduction in distribution. Facebook claims those articles are potentially shared more than 80 percent less than if they hadn't been deprioritized.

The social media company will still refrain from completely removing fake stories from its site, meaning deprioritized or so-deemed false stories will continue to appear in a user's news feed, even if it takes more digging to find them.

Facebook admitted in its statement that the company still has a lot to learn about the spread of fake news, and the company plans on "starting a new initiative to better understand how people decide whether information is accurate or not based on the news sources they depend upon."

Facebook and other social media sites have become the crux of criticism for enabling fake news stories to propagate during the 2016 presidential election. Critics have particularly pointed to about $150,000 in ads bought by Russia during the election.