Facebook is willing to take financial 'hit' to fight the fake news epidemic, says company official Marcy Scott Lynn.
She made the comment during a panel discussion hosted by National Observer that focussed in part on how Facebook and other online companies such as Google and Twitter allowed their networks to be used to spread waves of false information in the 2016 election that brought Donald Trump into the White House.
Facebook launched a tip sheet and video at the event to help Canadians identify and stop the spread of fake news and misinformation. These are the latest pieces of its plan to protect Canadians from misinformation in the next federal election.
The bid to help create "savvy readers and sharers of online news" is in partnership with MediaSmarts, an Ottawa-based nonprofit that teaches critical thinking and analysis of mass media.
The two-year collaboration aimed at improving digital news literacy is part of the social media giant's Canadian election integrity initiative, which was launched ahead of the 2019 federal election.
The panel discussion, aired live on Facebook from Vancouver Thursday, on the role of news literacy in democracy was hosted by Mike De Souza, National Observer managing editor. National Observer is a new member of the Facebook Journalism Project, a collaboration between the social media titan and various news organizations whose goal is to develop new products, help publishers foster informed readership, and improve Facebook's ability to support media outlets.
"The vast majority of false news is motivated by financial gain," said panelist Lynn, social good policy programs director at Facebook's headquarters in Menlo Park, California. "We are willing to take a hit to our profitability to make sure we are investing in this, and that financial gains are not available to people spreading false news."
Facebook admitted last month that it sold about 3,000 ads that were connected to hundreds of misleading accounts or pages between June 2015 and May 2017. These added up to about $100,000 in ad revenues and were affiliated with one another and likely operated out of Russia.
“Our research shows that Canadians are more likely to trust news shared by their family and friends on social media,” said panelist Matthew Johnson, MediaSmarts director of education. “That’s why it’s so important we take a minute to make sure a story is true before we pass it on.”
"I would say that we are here because the news is under attack," De Souza said to open the panel discussion. "And when the news is under attack, I would say democracy and your rights are also under attack."
Three steps for fighting fake news
The new tip sheet and video outline three easy strategies for fighting fake news: check the original source and its record of accuracy; double-check photos and videos using professional fact-checking sites (or search for the subject online next to the word 'hoax'); think before you share.
Questions to ask yourself:
- Could someone base an important decision about their health, their career, travel, etc. on this?
- Is this about a hot or controversial issue?
- Does this seem “too good to be true?”
- Could people do things that they might regret based on this?
- Could bad things happen because people thought this was true and it wasn’t?
These steps will help stop fake news in its tracks, say MediaSmarts and Facebook, which promoted their partnership in Montreal last month.
Fake news is often difficult to spot, he explained, and it's growing increasingly more prominent and deceptive. One website, Johnson said, has been impeccably designed to mirror the U.K. Guardian, and is distinguishable only because it lacks the dot in the 'i' of the Guardian logo.
Lynn said Facebook's mission is to foster "informed communities" online, and to that end, is "working really hard to make Facebook a hostile environment to bad actors" who spread disinformation through the platform.
Editor's note: This article was updated at 6:50 p.m. ET on Dec. 15 to correct the spelling of Facebook's Marcy Scott Lynn.