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Facebook: Rumor Police

Facebook: Rumor Police


In the age of endless scrolling on sites such as Facebook and Reddit, a lot of information is thrown at the user and not all of it ends up being true.  What’s worse, is that such false information is pervasive and has potential to spread throughout a user base fairly quickly. (And often does so!) Much of the time these false rumors are relatively harmless, for example Facebook’s Data Science team cites a false rumor that two-way mirrors can be distinguished from ordinary mirrors by the absence of a gap between an object and its reflection which was shared 140,331 times via Facebook users’ sharing system. However, at times such misinformation can have terrible consequences- see the Reddit community’s “witchhunt” of Boston Bomber suspects. Because of instances such as this, social media users must be wary of the validity of any post they see.

Facebook’s Data Science Team found that even when a post is proven to be inaccurate, that post is still shared at great rates. Furthermore, the rate at which dubious posts are shared far exceeds the rate at which they are disproven, so is still likely to impart false information onto people.  Consider again the mirror example which saw 140,331 shares. Throughout all of these shares, there were 20,948 comments but only 1,346 which referenced a Snopes article disproving this information.  Given that the number of shares far outweighs the number of comments disproving the rumor, one could claim that many users appear to believe this false information and that this rumor is likely to persist and convince even more.

In attempt to combat such misinformation cascades, In 2015 Facebook unrolled a system designed to dubious tag posts as misleading or false. Facebook will collect data on posts based on reports by users or deletions of a news post, and should those rates surpass a significant threshold then that post and shares of that post will receive a tag notifying users of the unclear validity of the post.  By notifying user’s upfront that a post may not be true, Facebook may prevent false rumors from cascading out of control and imparting false information onto its userbase.





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