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Facebook tweaks the feed to bury fake news and clickbait

The company trained its algorithms to recognize sketchy content and rank it lower than more legitimate posts.
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Dado Ruvic / REUTERS

Just how much fake news trending all over Facebook actually influenced the election is still up for debate, but the question pushed the social media company into crackdown mode. In the last few months, it cut off ad funding for dubious posts and added a button to let users flag questionable content for review by third-party fact-checkers. To more actively combat shady stories, the social media giant is tweaking its News Feed algorithm to promote more legitimate and viral content.

In a blog post, Facebook noted that users considered stories "authentic" when they were "genuine and not misleading, sensational or spammy." The tweaks to individuals' News Feeds will reflect that preference -- not just by burying fake news, but also by lowering the visibility of clickbait stories and Pages that urge folks to like, share and subscribe. To train their system to cull non-authentic posts, Facebook identified Pages that begged for engagement and/or that users had manually hidden, then fed that activity into a computer model to detect similarly low-quality content as it's posted.

The new tweaks will also boost viral stories. Individual Pages posts or topics across Facebook getting lots of engagement will be pushed higher in users' personal News Feeds, at least temporarily. Both adjustments are more about presenting more relevant and resonant content than expressly combating fake news, but refining the News Feed's algorithms will hopefully improve the quality of posts churning in front of users' eyes.

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