Facebook’s Trending Algorithm Can’t Stop Fake News, Computer Scientists Say
This Buzzfeed long read by Craig Silverman demonstrates how Facebook’s trending news feature couldn’t be designed better to promote right-wing fake news - the sort of stories which websites like Little Green Footballs then have to battle.
After being attacked by conservative media Facebook fired the feature’s human editors, deciding to instead rely on an algorithm. Since then ‘trending’ has included stories such as one saying Presidents Bush and Obama conspired to rig the 2008 election and another that Fox News had fired Megyn Kelly. As Silverman points out, it is not just right-wing fake news but misinformation about subjects such as vaccines that Facebook will end up wittingly promoting.
Kalina Bontcheva leads the EU-funded PHEME project working to compute the veracity of social media content. She said reducing the amount of human oversight for Trending heightens the likelihood of failures, and of the algorithm being fooled by people trying to game it.
“I think people are always going to try and outsmart these algorithms — we’ve seen this with search engine optimization,” she said. “I’m sure that once in a while there is going to be a very high-profile failure.”
After trialing it in the United States Facebook will be scaling internationally, and so “Facebook is creating a situation whereby future Trending failures will potentially occur at a scale unheard of in the history of human communication.”
“We’re just beginning to understand the impact of socially and algorithmically curated news on human discourse, and we’re just beginning to untie all of that with filter bubbles and conspiracy theories,” Starbird said. “We’ve got these society-level problems and Facebook is in the center of it.”
This reality is at odds with Facebook’s vision of a network where people connect and share important information about themselves and the world around them. Facebook has an optimistic view that in aggregate people will find and share truth, but the data increasingly says the exact opposite is happening on a massive scale.
“You have a problem with people of my parents’ generation who … are overwhelmed with information that may or may not be true and they can’t tell the difference,” Starbird said. “And more and more that’s all of us.”
The fact that Facebook’s own Trending algorithm keeps promoting fake news is the strongest piece of evidence that this kind of content overperforms on Facebook. A reliable Trending algorithm would have to find a way to account for that in order to keep dubious content out of the review team’s queue.
As well as getting rid of human editors Facebook has also ditched checking with mainstream media outlets to see if they are also carrying a story.
Experts interviewed by Silverman suggest that, failing Facebook restoring a human element, the algorithm should have a ‘reliability’ element and the ability to tell if news is only coming from, and circulating within, certain groups.
Facebook are aiding right-wing websites:
So much voter fraud happening in Texas, it’s now trending on Facebook pic.twitter.com/XNtBwTbVld