Facebook Clamps Down On Newsfeed Hoaxes

Tom Jowitt is a leading British tech freelance and long standing contributor to TechWeek Europe

Social networking giant responds to user complaints about hoaxes and spam in newsfeeds

Facebook has tweaked its systems to crack down on hoaxes and spam in user newsfeeds.

The development comes after years of user concern about what content appears in their newsfeeds.

False News

Indeed, it is fair to say that in the past Facebook users have sometimes across misleading or hoax items in their news feeds, such as “click here for a lifetime of free coffee”. Sometimes, the stories are simply mischievous or scaremongering, but sometimes they are much more sinister, and they can act as bait in order to lure unwary users to malware infected websites.

“The goal of News Feed is to catch up with your friends and find the things that matter to you,” blogged Facebook software engineer Erich Owens and research scientist Udi Weinsberg.

“We’ve heard from people that they want to see fewer stories that are hoaxes, or misleading news. Today’s update to News Feed reduces the distribution of posts that people have reported as hoaxes and adds an annotation to posts that have received many of these types of reports to warn others on Facebook,” wrote Owens and Weinsberg.

Facebook-falsenewsBut the social networking giant warned it was not removing stories that people report as false, and it is not reviewing content and assessing its accuracy. Essentially, Facebook is sticking to the argument (also evidenced by Google) that it is a platform, and not a publisher of information.

Instead, Facebook users now have the option to report a story they see in newsfeed as false. “This works in the same way as reporting a story as spam,” blogged Owens and Weinsberg. “When you click to hide a story you also have the option to report the content.”

And they said that this does mean that it also clamping down on satirical content for example. Indeed, Facebook said that that type of content should not be affected by the update.

“The vast majority of publishers on Facebook will not be impacted by this update. A small set of publishers who are frequently posting hoaxes and scams will see their distribution decrease,” wrote Owens and Weinsberg.

Newsfeed Changes

Changes to user newsfeeds have in the past proved controversial.

One of the most irritating change for many users was when Facebook began inserting adverts into users newsfeeds and updates. This happened despite research that British people resented big brands invading their social networks.

Another irritation came when Facebook began inserting videos that automatically played when the user scrolls to them. This caused complaints from mobile users, arguing that these videos swallowed their precious mobile data allowance.

Yet the newsfeed is the central component of the Facebook experience: it provides a stream of updates from friends and ‘liked’ organisations, including pictures, music and videos.

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