5 Questions About The New Facebook News Service

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Does Facebook have an Infowars problem? That depends on who you ask.

Since the social networking giant held an event last week to tout how it's fighting false news and misinformation, Facebook has faced some blowback for how it handles Infowars, the far-right site led by conspiracy theorist Alex Jones.

Since misinformation on the internet during the 2016 presidential campaign sharpened political divisions, Facebook has publicly mounted an offensive against the spread of false news on its network.

But many journalists have challenged Facebook saying if the site is truly fighting the spread of misinformation, how can it justify continuing to allow an official page for Infowars, which has propagated stories about hoaxes such as Pizzagate, and most recently, the Democrats' plan on July 4th to attempt to foment a civil war.

When CNN reporter Oliver Darcy asked Facebook executives at Wednesday's event about Infowars and its Facebook page with more than 900,000 followers, he was told by John Hegeman, the head of Facebook's News Feed, that the network does not "take down false news."

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Infowars just being false "doesn't violate the community standards," Hegeman said, according to CNN, explaining that the site has "not violated something that would result in them being taken down."

Instead, Facebook's strategies against false information will push such stories down in the News Feed so fewer users see it, Facebook spokeswoman Lauren Svensson told CNN later in an email exchange.

"If content from a Page or domain is repeatedly given a 'false' rating from our third-party fact-checkers ... we remove their monetization and advertising privileges to cut off financial incentives, and dramatically reduce the distribution of all of their Page-level or domain-level content on Facebook," she said, according to CNN reported.

That led to a continued discussion about the situation online throughout the week, as more weighed in on the issue. Here's a breakdown on the situation:

What is Infowars? The Austin, Texas-based Jones launched the website in 1999. Jones, the site says, "is a unique voice that sifts through the information and exposes the underlying intentions."

AP PEOPLE ALEX JONES A In this Monday, April 17, 2017 photo, "Infowars" host Alex Jones arrives at the Travis County Courthouse in Austin, Texas. Tamir Kalifa, AP

President Donald Trump has thanked Jones for helping him win the presidential election. Jones, who also hosts The Alex Jones Radio Show on 160 stations in the U.S., has 2.4 million followers on The Alex Jones Show channel on YouTube.

Why is Infowars controversial? On Infowars.com, Jones has promoted many conspiracy theories including labeling the Sept. 11, 2001 terror attacks an "inside job," and purporting the 2012 Sandy Hook Elementary school shooting never happened and instead was performed by child actors. Some families affected by the shooting have sued Jones.

Jones also promoted the Pizzagate conspiracy theory that Hillary Clinton operated a child sex ring at Comet Ping Pong, a pizza restaurant in Washington, D.C. On Dec. 4, 2016, a North Carolina man opened fire inside the pizza shop. Jones apologized to the restaurant owner. 

Infowars' misidentification of a man as the shooter in the February 2018 at Marjory Stone Douglas High in Parkland, Fla., has led to another suit filed against Jones and the site. Infowars later corrected the story.

Why do some want Facebook to take the page down? Some think Facebook is trying to have it both ways with the false news situation. It lets users flag as "disputed" news articles they consider false; those posts then are checked by third-party fact-checking groups, which if they confirm the "disputed" nature will attach a link explaining why it's disputed.

But Facebook itself has shied away from judging what content is misleading, while at the same time becoming a major source for news, with about half of all Americans (47%) in 2017 saying they got some news from Facebook.

CNN's Darcy posted his story about the Facebook event, saying he "didn't get a good answer" from Facebook about why Infowars is allowed to keep its page on the network. Facebook responded: "We believe banning these Pages would be contrary to the basic principles of free speech."

Facebook invited me to an event today where the company aimed to tout its commitment to fighting fake news and misinformation.

I asked them why InfoWars is still allowed on the platform.

I didn't get a good answer.https://t.co/WwLgqa6vQ4

— Oliver Darcy (@oliverdarcy) July 12, 2018

We see Pages on both the left and the right pumping out what they consider opinion or analysis – but others call fake news. We believe banning these Pages would be contrary to the basic principles of free speech.

— Facebook (@facebook) July 12, 2018

Subsequently, Kevin Roose, a reporter with The New York Times, equated the social network's position as similar to Trump's statement condemning violence "on many sides" in the 2017 white nationalist protest in Charlottesville, Virginia. "Some very fine pages on both sides," Roose tweeted.

Facebook tweeted back: "We understand you strongly disagree with our position. We just don’t think banning Pages for sharing conspiracy theories or false news is the right way to go. They seem to have YouTube and Twitter accounts too – we imagine for the same reason."

We understand you strongly disagree with our position. We just don’t think banning Pages for sharing conspiracy theories or false news is the right way to go. They seem to have YouTube and Twitter accounts too – we imagine for the same reason.

— Facebook (@facebook) July 12, 2018

Facebook showed a video as part of Wednesday's event -- you can see it on YouTube -- during which it used Pizzagate as an example of hoaxes that can be dangerous, Roose noted on Twitter.

FB also screened a 12-minute movie they made about their anti-misinformation push, which is pretty interesting in the examples it shows. https://t.co/9DugReBSXp

— Kevin Roose (@kevinroose) July 11, 2018

What is Facebook's stance? Facebook expects its strategy of tamping down false content and misinformation, fact-checking, and removing monetization and advertising from false news-peddling pages will serve as an incentive to offenders. The strategy also is one that supports free speech by allowing "different points of view," as Hegeman told CNN. 

Whether that will solve the problem remains to be seen. In the meantime, questions can still be asked of Facebook, says Alexios Mantzarlis, who heads The Poynter Institute-based International Fact-Checking Network, which assists Facebook in its evaluation process.

Among the important questions, Mantzarlis says in a story on Poynter's site: "Has the third party fact-checking product significantly reduced the reach of those InfoWars posts with demonstrably false content? If not, what is Facebook's strategy to ensure that it does?"

Facebook will downrank false content, annotate it with a fact check and demonetize the offending page.

So the question we should be asking Facebook is: How has this worked out with InfoWars? https://t.co/5OB3e1lXMi

— Alexios (@Mantzarlis) July 13, 2018

More: Alex Jones: Who is the Infowars host interviewed by Megyn Kelly?

More: 5 reasons why 'fake news' likely will get even worse

Follow USA TODAY reporter Mike Snider on Twitter: @MikeSnider.

Source : https://www.king5.com/article/news/nation-now/facebook-taking-heat-over-its-approach-to-infowars-heres-what-you-need-to-know/465-219bbfed-909c-448b-9be8-db73ea569c35

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