Facebook’s European media chief: Fake news is a ‘game of whack-a-mole’

Facebook has held meetings with media organizations in seven cities in Europe in the last two months, as part of efforts to figure out how to stunt the spread of fake news, according to Patrick Walker, director of media partnerships for the social platform, across Europe, the Middle East and Africa.

Speaking at a debate in London, hosted by ITN in partnership with the Edinburgh TV Festival yesterday, Walker stressed that Facebook takes its role in the news ecosystem “very seriously” but added that industrywide collaboration is needed. “You can’t put the genie back in the bottle in terms of the technology, but you can do things to address it, and we are doing a lot of those things,” he added.

This has involved Facebook meeting with various media organizations in seven cities across Europe. “A lot of the work we’re doing is listening, collaborating and trying to figure it out. It’s not an easy problem to solve. It’s a game of whack-a-mole,” he added.

The social network has shouldered its fair share of criticism in the past few months, over its role in the spread of fake news, as has Google. And Facebook didn’t escape the questions on it while on the panel, which was hosted by Channel 4 News anchor Jon Snow.

Here are some takeaways:

Follow the money
Walker outlined some of what Facebook is doing to staunch the flow of fake news on its platform, such as partnering with third-party fact checkers like Snopes, Politifact and AP, to flag fake news. “We’ve done this for now in the U.S., but we’ll expand it internationally.” Plans for how it will roll this out and work with partners across Europe are due be announced in the next few weeks.

Once stories have been flagged as misinformation, Facebook will deprecate it, and no one will be able to run ads on it or make the material into an ad of any sort to be promoted on Facebook, he added. “We see a lot of the effort of what goes into this misinformation as being financially driven, and we’re going after where the money is generated,” said Walker. “This is definitely something we could have done better before,” he added. Ensuring people or organizations aren’t creating spoof sites or masquerading as legitimate news sources, is also a priority, as is ensuring Facebook checks the ad history of dubious sources also.

The term “fake news” is being exploited
There are various types of fake news, but the term itself is now starting to be bandied around in the wrong way, according to Brian Stelter, host of CNN’s Reliable Sources show, and fellow panelist. “The term has been exploited, misused, redefined by partisans, including by the president-elect in the U.S., a few hours ago, calling the most recent report about Russia fake news,” he said. “We are seeing a redefinition of this language.” He cited The Washington Post columnist Margaret Sullivan’s recent suggestion to retire the term ‘fake news’ entirely for these kinds of reasons. “She may well be right,” added Stelter.

Britain favors a different kind of fake news

European countries, particularly Germany, France and Italy (all of which have national elections this year), are still behind the U.S. in terms of sheer volume of fake-news sites and social posts. But the number of posts, which are designed to be entirely false and deliberately trick people is growing. In the U.K., it’s a different kind of fake news that gets attention, according to BuzzFeed political editor Jim Waterston. “It’s rare that a complete falsehood goes viral here,” he said.

Rather, it’s those stories written by hyper-partisan sites, that have a kernel of truth and then are expanded into lies lathered with political spin or taken entirely out of context as a kind of crowd-pleaser for readers that tend to go viral in Britain, he added.

And a lot of that is part of the tabloid culture. “The British hyper-partisan news industry has already filled the gap very well to the point that what goes viral here usually falls into that second bucket of fake news. “These are much harder to crack down on,” he added. When it comes to the three biggest drivers of viral false-news stories, they tend to revolve around topics like Islamophobia, whatever mainstream media isn’t divulging, or are Brexit-related.

Stelter himself previously categorized the types of fake news into three buckets: total falsehoods, falsehoods with nuggets of truth, or the kind spread by partisan communities that take images or pieces of information wildly out of context.In his view, the U.K. style of fake news as described by BuzzFeed’s Waterston, is the more dangerous form, given its sophistication.


More in Media

How a work platform redesigned BuzzFeed’s former offices after moving in

Work platform Monday.com now occupies the former office space of BuzzFeed.

Media Briefing: 2024 publishers’ guide to selling at Cannes

Publishers’ sales teams will descend on the Croisette in Cannes next week. This is how they’re planning to pitch marketers.

Apple’s AI-hype at WWDC underlines its position as the final boss of Big Tech

The dreaded ‘web eraser tool’ did not materialize, but privacy continues to cloud insights on Apple users.