Under strong pressure from the German government, Facebook is testing a new mechanism to filter “fake news” distributed on its platform in Germany, according to the Financial Times, which first reported the news. German legislators hope to have an effective system for combating fake news in place before upcoming national elections.
In the new system being tested by Facebook, users can flag news stories they believe are fake, and the social network will then label the stories as “disputed” and refer them to Correctiv, an automatic fact checker. Stories deemed false or seriously inaccurate by Correctiv will receive a lower ranking from the algorithm that determines which stories people see in their news feeds, so far fewer users will end up seeing the story.
It’s unclear whether German officials will consider the new fake news filter sufficient: German legislators had demanded that Facebook remove fake news items entirely, whereas the filter would apparently allow them to remain, but with a lower profile.
Concern about the potential impact of fake news in Germany is mounting following the spread of a story, originally attributed to Breitbart, falsely reporting that a mob of Muslim immigrants had set fire to a church in Dortmund on New Year’s Eve. In fact, a stray firework set fire to a small piece of protective netting outside the church.
As noted in a previous post, in December the German Ministry of Justice threatened big fines for online platforms that fail to quickly delete fake news, as well as hate speech and other kinds of illegal content.
German Justice Minister Heiko Maas proposed a fine of 500,000 euros, or $522,000, for every fake news item that isn’t removed within 24 hours of being flagged. The same fine would apply to items deemed hate speech, including racism or statements inciting violence, which is illegal in Germany.The measures under consideration would also require online platforms to distribute corrections calling out fake news to at least the same people who saw the original bogus report. Individuals who are harmed by fake news stories would also be due compensation. Finally, foreign-owned companies would be required to maintain offices in Germany to handle these requests.