Fake news hits surpassed real news during election cycle, study finds

Social media giants targeting fake news

For the last few months, experts have theorized that America’s “fake news” cycle was having an unprecedented effect on American politics.

A new study released by BuzzFeed News shows they may have been right.

In the last three months of the presidential campaigns, top-performing false headlines from hoax sites and hyperpartisan blogs generated more than 8.7 million shares, reactions and comments, BuzzFeed News estimated.

That's compared to nearly 7.4 million shares, reactions and Facebook comments on the 20 best-performing news stories from mainstream websites, according to BuzzFeed's Craig Silverman.

Portlanders admit, the flood of phone news articles left them confused.

“You have a lot of news stories and news companies right now,” said Lauren Brown. “I don't know all the time how credible everything is.”

In light of that confusion, Facebook and Google are taking aim at fake news, by going after how the producers of those articles make money: advertising.

Google said this week it’s working on a new policy that would prevent websites that falsely portray themselves as legitimate news sources from using its AdSense advertising network.

Facebook said it’s updating its advertising policies to spell out that fake news false within its already banned category of deceptive and misleading content.

Adding to the changes, Twitter announced Tuesday it plans to crack down on “hate speech.” The platform then removed accounts from several members of the Alt-Right movement, a political group with roots in white nationalism.

At least one such user took to YouTube to air his frustrations, calling the move “corporate Stalinism."

University of Southern California social media professor Karen North warned, letting social media and search giants take the reins on our online conversation is a bad idea.

"You don't want to move down the slippery slope of deciding what's false versus what's an opinion versus what is sarcasm versus what is parody,” she said.

But Portland first amendment lawyer Duane Bosworth says, in both cases, private companies like Facebook, Google and Twitter are well within their rights to remove any posts or language they see fit.

“The question is two-fold,” he said. “One is whether the online providers that we’re talking about could ever be considered a public forum, and no court has upheld that at this time. The second issue is what might be protected, if in fact they were ever considered a public forum, and it could happen in 20 years. To the extent that the issue is about false news and false information, remember that neither the First Amendment nor the Oregon Constitution protect false speech.”

Bosworth added both the state and federal government protect free speech, with regard to opinion, but that protection doesn’t extend to platforms provided by private companies like Twitter.

“At this juncture they can do it with regard to any speech because they haven't been declared a public forum,” he said.

KGW


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