Facebook’s ongoing News Feed tests are helping increase the number of fake news stories on the platform, according to a report from The New York Times.
The social network is currently testing a feature that separates user and news publishers posts in an effort to streamline the News Feed.
The feature, which places news stories in a standalone feed called Explore, is being tested in countries like Slovakia, Sri Lanka, Bolivia, Serbia and Guatemala.
However, the divide between user and publisher-created posts has been stirring up some problems. The New York Times cited one particular fake news incident in December in Slovakia where a Muslim man thanked someone for returning his lost wallet. He reportedly also warned the good Samaritan of a planned terrorist attack, and the story subsequently became widely circulated on Facebook.
The police eventually had to issue a statement shutting down the false story, but because the alert came from an official account, it did not actually appear in users’ News Feeds, as per the revised structure of Facebook. Publishers in these countries have also reported significant decreases in their traffic as the result of these changes.
While these tests are currently only taking place in foreign countries, it’s easy to see how similar changes may be made to Facebook in North America. Just last week, the company the announced a major overhaul to News Feed that will prioritize content from friends and family, thus reducing the prominence of posts from publishers and other sources.
Facebook says this decision was made to encourage more “meaningful” interactions with the people users care about the most.
More importantly, this goes back to Facebook’s long-running problem with fake news. In the months leading up to and following the November 2016 U.S. presidential election, Facebook was accused of helping spread fake news stories to
Facebook also admitted that an operation likely based out of Russia used its platform to spread thousands of ads centred on sensitive topics like race and LGBT communities to cause further division.
To prevent the same problem from happening Canada, Facebook has been working with a number of organizations to crack down on the spread of misinformation. With experts suggesting that Canada could be vulnerable to external meddling in the 2019 federal election, Facebook has also been developing an integrity initiative alongside government officials.