Facebook buys newspaper space to combat fake news

In Germany, and only after German lawmakers threatened it with fines.

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Facebook has splashed out on a bevy of full-page newspaper ads explaining how readers can better identify fake news. As Bloomberg reports, the marketing materials appeared in Bild, Sueddeutsche Zeitung and Die Welt -- among other dailies in Germany -- on Thursday, pushing 10 "tips" for parsing information online. They're timely, given the German government is currently debating a new law that would fine social networks which fail to act on the problem. Specifically, platform holders would be penalized up to 50 million euros (roughly $53 million) if they don't offer proper reporting tools, or refuse to remove illegal content.

The law, if passed, will be one of the toughest crackdowns on fake news to date. Germany is holding a federal election in September, and wishes to avoid the misinformation and political quagmire that consumed the US elections last year. That's easier said than done, given the breadth of publishers who are now sharing news-like content on Facebook. The company has attempted to mitigate the problem by teaming up with Correctiv, a nonprofit investigative newsroom in Germany. The pair are testing a "disputed" tag which appears next to news stories flagged by users and, following investigation, debunked by Correctiv's team.

Facebook and Google have both been criticized for their role in the spread of fake news. A UK parliamentary inquiry is looking into the broader issue, and British newspapers have called for a deeper examination, including a thorough look at Google and Facebook's role. In response, Facebook has started linking to fake news tips at the top of the News Feed, and Google is showing fact-check summaries prominently in search results. The issue prevails, however. A recent report by The Outline, for instance, highlights how often Google search result snippets are hijacked by fake news.

While Google and Facebook work on the technology side -- how to build better reporting tools, fact-checker partnerships and news-filtering algorithms -- it makes sense to promote a more media-savvy user base. Newspaper adverts are a small, but welcome gesture if they encourage even a few to be more critical of the news and where it's coming from.