Fake News, Facebook and the Devastating Effect on User Experience

Fake News, Facebook and the Devastating Effect on User Experience

Over the last twelve months, hundreds of fake news sites have sprouted, and they all have a few things in common. They all target the US political arena, and many of them have been traced back to teenage owners in Macedonia.

A few months ago when the country was smack in the middle of elections, everybody was antsy for news. Supporters of both sides were hungry for new information about their preferred candidates or the opponent, as they were seeking to predict the angle that the election would take. Naturally, over 170 million Americans looked up to Facebook to give them credible updates.

Usually, Facebook users such as Lisel Laslie, a 48-year-old mother of two from Tallahassee take to Facebook for distraction, “I want to see puppies and pictures of my friends’ kids.” Instead, users are being flooded with all this fake news in their Newsfeeds.

Facebook has created a great platform for the world to break news, share information, and be reunited from whichever part of the world. In doing that, it has also created an avenue for income creation, which is the sole driver of the hundreds of fake news sites. The site owners make up sensational stories from which they earn an income simply from clicking on them.

Fake News, Big Business

To some teens in Macedonia, fake news is big business. “I make like $10,000 a month from AdSense,” says Paul Horner, a fake-news-focused writer. They do this by creating websites that look as legit as possible, placing ads on them and drawing traffic. This, according to Guy Sheetrit, CEO, and Founder of Over The Top SEO Ltd, is not hard to do. Horner’s ABC News site is not exactly polished, and it is quite basic, but it would pass for a news site. It would take a keen eye to notice it for the knockoff it is.

Although this news is filtered, some of it still makes it to people’s newsfeeds, in what has been seen to be hyper-partisan media organizations with massive followings on Facebook. Fact-checkers are overwhelmed with unverified information that crops up every few minutes.

Fake News Spreads Like Jungle Fire

According to one of the most credible data sources, the Pew Research Centre, 23 percent of Americans admit to having shared fake news, either unawares or intentionally. 64 percent of the 1,000 survey participants agree that the news left them quite confused about current affairs.

News that stirs up emotions has a way of spreading faster. Most tend to people react to headlines that appeal to emotion, even when they have doubts about the credibility of the news.

Fake news sites peddle their lies with the intention of making a kill and getting away with it. But as Guy  Sheetrit  says, “If you follow the rules (just like in real life), you won’t get into trouble, if you try to pull some tricks and fishy actions, PLEASE know that you WILL get caught.” Google and Facebook seem to have found a way to tame the fraud through AdSense.

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Young Macedonians on the Move

2016, as an election year, has seen a churn of fake news especially surrounding the elections. A Facebook post reporting on the death of the FBI agent who leaked Hillary Clinton’s emails was reported as false, but not before it was shared 500,000 times.  There have been other incidences such as the one reporting on the Pope’s endorsement of Donald Trump. “Yes, the info in the blogs is bad, false, and misleading but the rationale is that ‘if it gets the people to click on it and engage, then use it,’” sentiments of a University student in Veles who has a US politics site.

These Macedonian youths started over 100 fake sites to generate information that would evoke reactions, shares, and likes on Facebook. They all have one thing in common; their focus is on anti-Hillary news. They say they do not care who won the 2016 elections but were just responding to an economic incentive.  “A fake news article is way more opened than any other,” said an 18-year-old Macedonian fake-news site owner.

What Is Facebook Doing?

Facebook users and fact-checkers share the same sentiments. They want the concern addressed immediately.

In his November 19 Facebook post, Mark Zuckerberg, Facebook CEO said that “we take misinformation seriously.” He outlined that they have historically relied on the community to help them stem fake news, with the liberties they provided asking their users to report stories that could be fake.

He went on to say that they have plans underway to combat this vice through third-party verification, where the social media giant plans to work with third parties fact-checkers.

He further said that Facebook plans to label content that is flagged by readers and organizations, to warn the audience in advance. The organization also intends to inspect the quality of articles linked in newsfeeds. It is noteworthy here that the Macedonian teens say their articles are plagiarized from other sites.

Zuckerberg added that Facebook is looking to nip the fake news industry in the bud by changing its ad policies, seeing that the industry is fueled by the need to make money from the same ads. In a new policy, Google says that it will ban fake news sites from using AdSense, its advertising service.

As far as learning more on how to create an accurate site is concerned, Zuckerberg stated that they “would continue to work with journalists and others in the news industry to get their input, in particular, to better understand their fact-checking systems and learn from them.