Facebook must be wary of viewpoint censorship in fake news battle

By Editorial Board

Facebook faced harsh criticism after people became aware that fake news stories were circulating on the social media platform during the recent presidential election, spreading false information to many voters. Prompted by widespread criticism that fabricated stories might have influenced presidential election results, 

Facebook’s Director of Product Fidji Simo said in a Jan. 11 press release that Facebook would be teaming up with journalists and multiple news organizations to create mechanisms to detect fake news and prevent it from circulating.

A Dec. 17, 2016, Guardian article describes fake news as “completely made up, manipulated to resemble credible journalism and attract maximum attention and, with it, advertising revenue.”

By working with news organizations, Facebook’s goal is to build a stronger platform through which users can share accurate news and discuss it. This will include new storytelling formats with a greater emphasis on local news and emerging business models. The Washington Post and Fox News have already been announced as partners in the project’s goals of promoting “news literacy”—the act of analyzing the reliability of news—which will be guided by the News Literacy Project, a national educational nonprofit, to encourage Facebook users to sort fact from fiction in news articles they post.

Facebook’s outreach to media partners, including The Washington Post and Fox News, will assist in filtering out fake news without censoring particular viewpoints.  Including media outlets on both sides of the aisle will counteract the tendency to reject news as fake because it upsets the reader or conflicts with value systems.

According to a May 16, 2016, Pew survey, 66 percent of Facebook users turn to the social media platform for news. In light of this, promoting news literacy should clearly be a focal point of the project. Readers should also make their own efforts by consulting outside sources for verification instead of accepting what they read uncritically.

The initiative should take pains to prevent censorship, a slippery slope leading to the suppression of free speech, and resist propaganda in any form. Facebook has to make careful decisions on what it excludes to avoid accusations of bias filtering. Other popular social media, such as Reddit, Twitter and Tumblr, should take steps of their own to educate readers about the information they are relying on to form their opinions.

Facebook should take responsibility for restricting the flow of fabricated news, but the public should be more discriminating and seek out the truth themselves.