Facebook to continue its fake news fight in Germany
Stephen Lam/File Photo/Reuters
Main page Technologies

In the months prior to Germany's parliamentary election, the social media giant will roll out its newest tool that makes it easier for users to report fake news that appear in their News Feeds.

The scandal around fake news that broke out after the U.S. presidential election in November was enough to alarm other governments and push Facebook to develop a special tool to help combat the spread of fake news stories online. Back then, Facebook (NASDAQ: Facebook [FB]) was heavily criticized for not doing enough to take care of the spread of misleading information during such a politically important period in the country. The first tool of this kind was launched in the U.S. in December, shortly after the November 8 election day as a response to the criticism that poorly managed news distribution on the most popular social media platform boosted Donald Trump's chances, said The Telegraph.

Since then, the problem of fake news circulating on Facebook has become even more urgent after both German and U.S. intelligence agencies warned the governments that Russia was likely to be involved in influencing public opinion during elections and support the distribution of fake news, said Reuters. Considering that the next parliamentary election in Germany is coming this September, the German government warned the U.S. tech giant that the company could face huge fines if the problem of fake news remains unresolved. Several government officials said that the issue of fake news distributed on Facebook should be tackled as soon as possible as it could have a serious impact on the upcoming parliamentary election that would be in the center of public attention, since the Chancellor Angela Merkel decided to run for her fourth term.

Germany's Minister of Justice Heiko Maas said in December that the country's defamation laws were much stricter than those in the United States and Facebook should respect that.

"Defamation and malicious gossip are not covered under freedom of speech. Justice authorities must prosecute that, even on the internet. Anyone who tries to manipulate the political discussion with lies needs to be aware [of the consequences]," said Maas, as reported by Reuters.

He also mentioned that the German government was working on a series of laws that would strictly punish both the offenders, who create the news pieces containing falsified facts, as well as Facebook, as distributor. Maas mentioned that the offenders could face up to five years in jail while the head of German Social Democrat Party said that Facebook could be fined as much as €500,000 for every news post containing false information or hate speech that was not taken down within 24 hours from the moment of posting.

"We need to fully utilize all the legal authority at our disposal. Facebook is earning an awful lot of money with fake news. A company that earns billions from the internet also has a social responsibility. Prosecutable defamation must be deleted immediately, once reported. It needs to be made easier for users to report fake news," Maas told Germany's Bild am Sonntag, reported Reuters.

Unsurprisingly, this was enough for Facebook to think of rolling out its newly-developed tool for combating fake news in Germany, as well. On Sunday, the social media giant confirmed that the tool will be launched in Germany in the nearest future. According to the company's blog post, the new tool will allow Facebook users in Germany to flag a story as fake via a special option embedded in every post.

By marking a post as fake news, other users that would want to share this post will be notified that it was reported. Next to that, the marked post will be sent to Correctiv, a German non-profit organization of professional journalists, to verify all facts mentioned in the news piece. If Correctiv confirms that the story is, indeed, falsified, the post will be marked as disputed and then buried in users' News Feeds.

Some would say that Facebook never called itself a news website but, according to the latest study, the overwhelming majority of adult American population rely on social media platforms to receive their daily news, said TechCrunch. Even though Zuckerberg previously emphasized that Facebook was primarily a technology company rather than a media one, he wrote that Facebook had bigger responsibility than merely providing the platform for distributing content.

“While we don’t write the news stories you read and share, we also recognize we’re more than just a distributor of news. We’re a new kind of platform for public discourse — and that means we have a new kind of responsibility to enable people to have the most meaningful conversations, and to build a space where people can be informed," Zuckerberg wrote in his post back in December, as reported by TechCrunch.

Prior to the official confirmation of the launch of the fake news tool in Germany, the experts discovered several Facebook pages that distributed fake news about the Chancellor Merkel. BuzzFeed analysts said that they found lots of falsified news stories that were promoted by far-right media outlets and distributed through "fringe websites" as well as popular social media platforms, including Facebook. The stories that "uncover" conspiracy theories about the German government as well as use misleading facts and headlines mostly about the Chancellor's stance towards the refugee crisis appeared to be among the most read news pieces on social media in 2016.

The option to mark a story as fake is expected to be available to Facebook users in Germany already in a few weeks, said the company.

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