Facebook says it’s ramping up efforts to combat fake news

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Facebook said Wednesday it is rolling out a wide range of updates aimed at combatting the spread of false and harmful information on the social media site — stepping up the company’s fight against misinformation and hate speech as it faces growing outside pressure.

The updates will limit the visibility of links found to be significantly more prominent on Facebook than across the web as a whole, suggesting they may be clickbait or misleading. The company is also expanding its fact-checking program with outside expert sources, including The Associated Press, to vet videos and other material posted on Facebook.

Facebook groups — the online communities that many point to as lightning rods for the spread of fake information — will also be more closely monitored. If they are found to be spreading misinformation, their visibility in users’ news feeds will be limited.

Lawmakers and human rights groups have been critical of the company for the spread of extremism and misinformation on its flagship site and on Instagram.

During a hearing Tuesday on the spread of white nationalism, members of Congress questioned a company representative about how Facebook prevents violent material from being uploaded and shared on the site.

In a separate Senate subcommittee hearing Wednesday, the company was asked about allegations that social media companies are biased against conservatives.

The dual hearings illustrate the tricky line that Facebook and other social media sites such as Twitter and YouTube are walking as they work to weed out problematic and harmful materials while also avoiding what could be construed as censorship.

CEO Mark Zuckerberg’s latest vision for Facebook, with an emphasis on private, encrypted messaging, is sure to pose a challenge for the company when it comes to removing problematic material.

Guy Rosen, Facebook’s vice president of integrity, acknowledged the challenge in a meeting with reporters at Facebook’s Menlo Park, California, headquarters Wednesday. He said striking a balance between protecting people’s privacy and public safety is “something societies have been grappling for centuries.”

Rosen said the company is focused on making sure it does the best job possible “as Facebook evolves toward private communications.” But he offered no specifics.

“This is something we are going to be working on, working with experts outside the company,” he said, adding that the aim is “to make sure we make really informed decisions as we go into this process.”

Facebook already has teams in place to monitor the site for material that breaks the company’s policies against information that is overtly sexual, incites violence or is hate speech.

Karen Courington, who works on product-support operations at Facebook, said half of the 30,000 workers in the company’s “safety and security” teams are focused on content review. She said those content moderators are a mix of Facebook employees and contractors, but she declined to give a percentage breakdown.

Facebook has received criticism for the environment the content reviewers work in. They are exposed to posts, photos and videos that represent the worst of humanity and have to decide what to take down and what to leave up in minutes, if not seconds.

Courington said these workers receive 80 hours of training before they start their jobs and “additional support,” including psychological resources. She also said they are paid above the “industry standard” for these jobs but did not give numbers.

It’s also not clear if the workers have options to move into other jobs if the content-review work proves psychologically difficult or damaging.

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