In this technological age of instant gratification and cynical reporting online, social media giant Twitter is finally taking steps towards combating fake news. According to the Washington Post, a feature is under consideration that would allow users to flag tweets that are false or inaccurate.
The functionality of the new feature would involve users reporting a post as misleading in the same way as current tweets can be reported as spam, abusive or harmful. The move would follow in the footsteps of Facebook, who experienced a glut of fake articles being posted on the site last year and introduced a way for users to report false news.
The tool now allows users in America to report “purposefully fake or deceitful news” to the site’s moderators. In the UK, the same option only allows users to block or message the poster, offering no way to bring the posts to the attention of the administrators.
During the election of Donald Trump multiple social media accounts were set up to purposefully spread deceptive campaign information, which Twitter clearly believes can still be exploited if nothing is changed.
The company is developing the tool in an attempt to combat factually inaccurate tweets that may come from accounts run by bots, as well as invasive posts from radicals and extremists that use Twitter to recruit, and even racist and misogynistic trolls. In 2014, Twitter said that 23 million of its users tweet automatically via bots.
Even so Twitter may still find it difficult to stamp out all fake news. In March, Facebook made another attempt to combat the spread of misinformation by launching a feature that alerts users when a story has been disputed by independent fact-checkers such as Snopes. Google has also launched a similar feature which adds fact-check tags to news and search results.
Unfortunately for Twitter, other reporting tools have ended up being abused, with individual users finding their accounts suspended after organised campaigns resulted in hundreds of reports of “abusive” behaviour in a short space of time.
And if Twitter avoids that pitfall, it still runs the risk of being accused of political bias in which stories it removes. Facebook fell prey to such accusations when it was revealed that a human-curated “trending” feature relied on a list of trustworthy news sources which US rightwingers perceived as left-leaning.
Facebook now partners with independent fact-checking organisations in the US in an attempt to avoid being accused of partiality in which stories it deems false or inaccurate.
In a landmark series of reports on elections in nine countries, researchers at the Oxford University found that both Facebook and Twitter were being used to manipulate public opinion, with “junk news” widespread on both platforms.
The hope is that this new feature is a step in the right direction even if it’s not the end of the problem. If you would like to know more about the functionality of Twitter and other social media platforms, have a look at our services and get in touch!