Back in December 2016, Politifact announced that the winner of its annual "Lie of the Year" award was the phenomenon known as fake news. Rather than select one egregious lie in particular, Politifact felt that fake news had so distorted and undermined the integrity of real news, that this phenomenon as a whole deserved the infamous award.
Now a few months into 2017, fake news continues to remain a problem.
To help combat it, Google and Facebook have both recently come out with new tools and features that can help inform their users on how to distinguish true stories from fake ones.
Google "Fact Check" Tags
On Friday, Google announced that it would expand its use of fact check tags. These tags appear underneath search results that have been reviewed by fact-checking institutions (Politifact, for instance) and quickly summarize the outcome of that review in an information box. This box briefly mentions what claim the article is making, who is the source of that claim, and whether the claim is true, false, or a shade in between. The Google tag also includes a link to the fact-checking website itself, where an individual can read an in-depth analysis on why the claim received that result.But as Google made clear in a blog post, the fact-checking feature will apply only to some entries, and won't always lead to cut-and-dried conclusions.
"This information won't be available for every search result, and there may be search result pages where different publishers checked the same claim and reached different conclusions. These fact checks are not Google's and are presented so people can make more informed judgements."Google originally introduced this feature back in October of last year, but only for those articles appearing on Google News, and only in the US and UK.
The announcement on Friday, however, declared that in its quest to curb fake news, Google will now be launching this feature globally. In addition, the tags will appear on general search results as well as on Google News, making it harder for users to click on a fake news story without seeing the tag.
Facebook has also decided to join the fight, creating an "educational tool" meant to instruct people on discerning real news from fake. Over the course of a week, it plans to display notifications at the top of its users' News Feed, which, when clicked on, will take the user to the Facebook Help Center. Here they'll find tips on how to spot false news.
Some tips include researching a websites' sources to verify their accuracy and checking other news outlets to see if the story in question is being reported anywhere else.
Adam Mosseri, vice president of News Feed at Facebook, emphasized the importance of this tool in a new post.
"Improving news literacy is a global priority, and we need to do our part to help people understand how to make decisions about which sources to trust."This recent move by Facebook is only the latest in an effort to cut back the spread of fake stories across its platform.
Will the new efforts succeed?
There's no saying for sure whether the new tools employed by Google and Facebook will succeed. Indeed, the point of fake news is to appear indistinguishable from the real stuff. Those who manufacture these falsehoods will likely find some way to adapt.
Breitbart, for instance, has already begun sowing doubt about Google and it's fact-checking tags. A recent article from the site dismissed Snopes and Politifact -- two organizations that Google uses for the service -- as partisan groups that are incapable of judging the truth of a claim impartially. Dismissing the fact-checkers is merely one way of dismissing their findings.In this new era of pervasive falsehoods and rampant misinformation campaigns, it becomes all the more challenging, and yet all the more vital, to reject unfounded claims such as those proposed by Breitbart. That's why the work Google and Facebook have begun in weeding out fake news is essential.
As Politifact put it, "When we can't agree on basic facts -- or even that there are such things as facts -- how do we talk to each other?"
[Featured Image by Eric Risberg/AP Images]