Facebook is getting rid of its fake news red flags because they were making fabricated media reports appear more believable to its users.
The social network began showing “disputed” warnings next to articles in December to alert people that third party fact-checking websites deemed them misleading.
It will now show a selection of “related articles” next to offending stories instead. These will give more context and could help people learn the facts surrounding a situation through reputable media publications.
The U-turn was prompted by research suggesting users would actually believe fake news even if it was flagged as incorrect or a misleading.
“Academic research on correcting misinformation has shown that putting a strong image, like a red flag, next to an article may actually entrench deeply held beliefs – the opposite effect to what we intended,” Facebook product manager Tessa Lyons wrote in a blog-post.
It conducted research which suggested that false news stories with “related articles” next to it were shared fewer times than those highlighted with a red flag.
“False news undermines the unique value that Facebook offers: the ability for you to connect with family and friends in meaningful ways. It’s why we’re investing in better technology and more people to help prevent the spread of misinformation,” Lyons wrote.
“Overall, we’re making progress. Demoting false news (as identified by fact-checkers) is one of our best weapons because demoted articles typically lose 80 percent of their traffic. This destroys the economic incentives spammers and troll farms have to generate these articles in the first place.”
Fears about fake news have grown over the past year, with MPs putting pressure on media sites like Facebook to better regulate its news feed.
As well as being a favourite term of Donald Trump, who regularly applies the label to media organisations in the US, it has raised tension between nations.
US intelligence agencies are currently investigating the impact of Russian meddling on the outcome of last year’s election. Facebook said that as many as 126 million Americans saw content from Russia-based agents on the site over the past two years.
The social network was pressed by MPs to reveal similar figures relating to Russian adverts around the time of the European referendum and the general election in June. But Facebook last week claimed just 75p was spent by Russian’s on adverts aimed at UK audiences.