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Facebook's News Feed change may amplify fake news

People are more likely to share sensationalist stories over 'boring facts'.
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AFP

Facebook has been under fire since it was revealed just how big its "fake news" problem is. It's been taking steps to combat the issue and reestablish users' faith in the service. But now, it looks as though one of its most recent tweaks might have made things worse. The New York Times reports that in some countries where Facebook has been testing its latest News Feed changes, the tweaks have actually amplified fake news across the service. We've reached out to Facebook for comment.

The company has made no secret of the fact that it's been changing the News Feed algorithm over the past few months. The idea has been to figure out how to deliver content that users want to see. The latest tweak, announced last week, involves prioritizing posts from friends and family over stories and videos from publishers. Unless a publisher is ready to shell out a significant amount of money, the main news stories you'll see on your Facebook feed are the ones that your friends and family have shared.

It might sound good in theory, but the problem is that it hasn't worked so well in test countries. Facebook has implemented similar News Feed tweaks in six countries, including Bolivia, Slovakia and Cambodia, though the company claimed that these changes are not identical to the worldwide changes it's putting into place. The problem is when the only news people get is those pieces shared by friends, it's the sensationalist (and often fake) stories that will be disseminated. "People usually don't share boring news with boring facts," Filip Struharik, the social media editor of Denník N, a Slovakian news site, told The New York Times.

This algorithm change is certainly a big problem for publishers around the world who rely on Facebook's massive user base for their traffic, but there's an even larger issue here. The company is making it harder for legitimate news organizations to share their stories (and thus counter any false narratives), and by doing so, is creating a breeding ground for the fake news it's trying to stamp out in the first place. It's a terrible situation, and Facebook appears to just be making everything worse.

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