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Facebook's efforts to eliminate fake news paying off, study finds

Hannah Boland
Late last month, Facebook started ranking British news organisations on how 'trustworthy' they were - REUTERS

Facebook's efforts to stamp out fake news on the site seem to have had a "meaningful impact", researchers have said.

A study by Stanford University and New York University analysed how many interactions 570 fake news sites had on Twitter and Facebook between January 2015 and July 2018.

While the results showed a steady rise in people sharing posts from the fake news sites on both Facebook and Twitter from early 2015 to the months just after the 2016 US presidential election, "interactions then declined by more than half on Facebook, while they continued to rise on Twitter".

The number of people sharing posts from major news, business and culture websites remained “relatively stable” over the same period on both sites. 

"While this evidence is far from definitive, we see it as consistent with the view that the overall magnitude of the misinformation problem may have declined, at least temporarily, and that efforts by Facebook following the 2016 election to limit the diffusion of misinformation may have had a meaningful impact," the report said.

The results are likely to provide some cheer to Facebook, which has brought in a number of features over the past couple of years to try to crack down on fake news.

Late last month, for example, Facebook started ranking British news organisations on how “high quality” it believed they were, giving them so-called “trust scores”. And in April, articles users had flagged as inaccurate were made smaller on the site, with Facebook hoping this would make them less likely to be clicked on.

These efforts have ramped up in recent months ahead of the US midterm elections in November and European Parliament elections next year, as tech giants try to avoid a repeat of the meddling that occurred during the 2016 election.

Facebook, Twitter and Google were all recently dragged in front of Congress after intelligence agencies found their platforms had been used to spread fake news and adverts during the presidential campaign.

However, the latest report said there was still work to be done to ensure disinformation campaigns are stamped out.

Even after the drop in interactions from late 2016 onwards, articles from fake news sites are still shared around 70 million times every month on Facebook. On Twitter, the number of fake news shares are between four and six million each month.