Facebook’s head of news partnerships for Europe has said the social media platform wants to “stamp out” egregious examples of fake news by “disrupting” the business model that fuels it.
Nick Wrenn said that while examples of fake news during the US election campaign had “clearly focused minds” on the issue, it was something Facebook “has been looking at for a long time”.
“The whole idea of being able to go on to Facebook knowing you are in a safe environment and you are part of a community that has the values of respect is really important to us,” he told The Media Briefing podcast.
“We have been working on a number of these things for a long time, but this one [fake news] clearly has been crystalised by particular events elsewhere.”
He added: “I think the goal for us first of all is to eradicate as much as we can of the hugely fake news and a lot of it is done by spammers for profit.
“It may be political in nature because that’s what they think people click on. Really it doesn’t matter what content type that is, whether it’s video, an article or a doctored picture, whatever it may be, we want to stamp that out.
“We feel that if we can disrupt or get rid of the business model that encourages spammers to do these stories and then sell ads off the back of them when their hits get big enough, that will go some way to curbing these problems.
“It won’t be the solution, but it will go some way.”
Wrenn said he saw Facebook as primarily a tech company, adding: “We aren’t gate-keepers, we are a platform and we want to be as open a platform as possible.
But, he added: “We want the standards to be respectful and correct and for good journalism to be able to reach the people for which it’s intended.”
He said it wasn’t Facebook’s “job” to say what stories are fake, but pointed to its engagement of fact-checking professionals who could make that decision as a weapon in the fight against fake news.
These fact-checkers, he said, labelled as “suspicious” stories whose sourcing was “clearly false” that resulted in it becoming “less visible” but still shareable and never removed.
He added: “There are a huge range of issues around journalism and around distribution of content and around authenticity.
“We can manage as well as we can what’s on our platform, so the guidelines we have put into place are really clear. I think our definition of hoax news or misinformation is really clear and fake news has become very unhelpful [as a term]…
“Freedom of speech absolutely has a place. We are looking at stuff that is malicious, totally wrong and done for nefarious reasons.”
In an attempt to reassure publishers about Facebook’s intentions, Wrenn said his team was made up of people from the news media industry, adding: “We all have a vested interest in a healthy industry.
“We understand these are times of disruption but we are absolutely committed to collaborating so that great journalism can prosper.”