Facebook admits that resisting standards for fake news was 'wrong'

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In the wake of criticism about fake news, Facebook has admitted that its stance of resisting any standards of news on its platform was "wrong."

"For so long, we had resisted having standards about whether something's newsworthy because we did not consider ourselves a service that was predominantly for the distribution of news. And that was wrong!" Facebook VP of global comms, Elliot Schrage, said on a panel about the election and the media, Vox reported on Friday.

In recent weeks, Facebook has been taken to task for how widely and effectively fake news spread on its platform. A study by BuzzFeed showed that in the lead-up to the election, the top fake-news stories on Facebook outperformed legitimate news stories shared by some of the most popular media companies.

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How to avoid Facebook phishing scams
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How to avoid Facebook phishing scams

1. Exercise common sense

Why is somebody offering you something that costs them money to purchase - and to market - for free? Does there seem to be a legitimate reason for the offer? What value does the party giving away the object receive in return? Does that value warrant giving away the object - or is the offer simply too good to be true? As you probably learned as a child - "don't take candy from strangers."

2. Consider how much is being given away

Legitimate giveaways done for marketing purposes are typically inexpensive items, downloadable materials, or extremely small quantities of expensive items to a small percentage of sweepstakes winners selected from a targeted group; any offer that claims to be giving away large numbers of expensive items should raise a red flag as doing so rarely makes sense from a business standpoint, especially if the offer is being promoted to the general public on social media.

(Adam Gault via Getty Images)

3. Check if a page is verified

Most major businesses are verified (with a white check on a blue circle - some small businesses have similar marks that are white on gray), so if an offer is ostensibly coming from a large business and the page from which it is being posted is not verified, that may signal problems. Not all businesses are verified; if you see a post from a business that is not verified, however, you can search on the business's name and see if there is a verified account for the business - if there is, you know that the unverified account is likely fake.

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(Nastco)

4. Look at the fine print

Legitimate sweepstakes and giveaways always have some sorts of "fine print" associated with them - if there are no "Offer Details," "Terms and Conditions," or the like, consider a huge red flag to have been raised.

(Reptile8488 via Getty Images)

5. Look for signs of an unprofessional post

Spelling mistakes, grammar mistakes, misuse of idioms, writing that appears to have been auto-translated or written without knowledge of "how people speak," or photos that don't seem to match the post are all red flags. Do you really think a major firm running a marketing campaign doesn't check its content before posting it on Facebook?

(Just One Film via Getty Images)

6. Check the page's age and what appeared on it prior to the questionable post

it is a bad sign if a page was created right before an offer post was made. Of course, criminals know that people look out for page age - so they may create pages and post for a while before using the page for scams. So look out for what content was shared before? Does it make sense coming from the business? Do the comments on those posts make sense? Often there are giveaways on such pages that something is amiss.

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Facebook's response was initially dismissive, with CEO Mark Zuckerberg saying particularly that "the idea that fake news on Facebook — it's a very small amount of the content — influenced the election in any way is a pretty crazy idea."

Facebook, however, has recently begun to reevaluate its stance of fake news. Zuckerberg outlined several steps the company is taking to clamp down on the spread of misinformation, and other execs are actively discussing Facebook's role in the spread of media.

But Facebook has stopped short of pledging to have an editorial role. "It is not clear to me that with 1.8 billion people around the world, lots of different users and lots of different languages, the smart strategy is to start hiring editors," Schrage said. "That's just not what we do."

In a talk on Thursday, Patrick Walker, a Facebook media partnerships exec, went a bit further. "We do not think of ourselves as editors," Walker said during the News Xchange conference in Dublin. "We believe it's essential that Facebook stay out of the business of deciding what issues the world should read about. That's what editors do."

Still, Facebook has admitted that it needs to take some action. "We have a responsibility here. I think we recognize that. This has been a learning for us," Schrage said.

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