Fake news refers to reports and stories carrying inaccurate facts and perhaps sensational headlines to draw more readers. These online stories are being circulated on social media platforms as real news and are at times published on websites with a homepage or URL name similar to an established news website to confuse readers. In July 2015, a website called bloomberg.ma misled readers with a fake news report that Twitter had received a takeover offer of $31 billion. The article page had even copied Bloomberg’s standard layout style and led to a spike of 7% in Twitter shares.
Another fake news about Donald Trump winning popular vote in the presidential election in November 2016 appeared on a website called 70 News and went on to become one of the top search results on Google News for searches such as “final election numbers” or “final vote count 2016”. Similarly, search query “did the Holocaust happen” showed a link to a racist website called Storefront, which denied Holocaust, as the top result in December 2016.
According to a study (published on 17 November 2016) by Buzzfeed News, from 1 August to the day of the election, 20 of the top fake election stories led to 8,711,000 shares, reactions and comments on Facebook. While 20 top real news stories published by established and reputed websites generated 7,367,000 shares, reactions and comments on the social network.
Social media has often been blamed for its weak stance on the matter, making it easier for people to circulate false news reports. Authorities from the UK, Germany and EU have reportedly warned top social media companies to take more concrete measures or face strict action.
In order to help the reader identify fake news, Google has adjusted its ranking signals to give more priority to authoritative pages over low-quality content. It will also make it much easier for people to directly flag content in Autocomplete predictions and Featured Snippets.
The search engine has also updated its guidelines for Human Search Quality Raters. Now articles with misleading, inaccurate or hateful content will be given lower ratings. This will help Google to adjust its algorithms and demote results which are fake and offensive.
Facebook is adding new tools to identify and curb fake accounts and groups which are being used to run coordinated campaigns or share misleading and inflammatory content. According to a report, some of the tools which are already active have allowed the social network to identify and flag over 30,000 fake accounts in France since 13 April. Facebook is also exploring the idea of labelling stories which have been flagged by independent checkers or users. It will make it easier for users to flags stories which are fake.
An educational tool has been added at the top of the News Feed. This tool will provide users with tips on how to spot fake news and how to check the URL of a site.