Facebook’s Fake News Flags Backfire Forcing a Change in Strategy

Facebook has taken back its decision of using ‘disputed flags’ or red badges under the articles to mark them as fake news. Instead, Facebook will now use related articles to provide users more context to the story.

Facebook has taken up a new initiative to observe the way users judge how accurate the information is all based on the news sources they use. However, this change won’t immediately affect the News Feed.

Related articles were launched back in 2013 with the link displayed on the News Feed after the users are done reading the original article. The purpose of Related articles was to prevent the News Feed from piling up with trolls and memes which would direct them to content from reputable publishers instead, and also keep the reader engaged further.


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Facebook, along with Google and Twitter, is under pressure and is constantly struggling as, according to the critics, Facebook hasn’t done much to battle against fake news including the ‘troll farm’ articles that circulate misinformation to gain profit or to divert the attention of the users from politics or other hot news.

Tessa Lyons, the product manager of Facebook, said Facebook decided to replace Disputed Flags with Related Articles because the red badges actually had the effect of reinforcing beliefs. Lyons wrote,


Academic research on correcting misinformation has shown that putting a strong image, like a red flag, next to an article may actually entrench deeply held beliefs—the opposite effect to what we intended. Related Articles, by contrast, are simply designed to give more context, which our research has shown is a more effective way to help people get to the facts. Indeed, we’ve found that when we show Related Articles next to a false news story, it leads to fewer shares than when the Disputed Flag is shown.


According to the Facebook team, they had been traveling to various countries for researches purposes on how the false news takes over different contexts and how people react to “designs meant to inform them that what they are reading is fake news.”

At last, they found out four ways to improve the Disputed Flag feature.

  • Disputed flags should help users identify immediately the reason why fact-checkers dispute an article because most of the people are least bothered about clicking further.
  • Strong language, images or a red flag most of the times boomerang by fortifying beliefs even if marked as false.
  • The disputed flag was only applied when two fact-checking organizations have termed it as false.
  • Some of the fact-checkers rated the articles on a scale of “false,” “partly false,” “unproven” or “true”.

Albeit, the Related Article won’t create a major impact on the clickthrough rates but it would scale down the shares, says the team. Red Badges would also be put up which identifies which fact-checkers reviewed an article. Smith, Jackson, and Raj said,


As some of the people behind this product, designing solutions that support news readers is a responsibility we take seriously. We will continue working hard on these efforts by testing new treatments, improving existing treatments and collaborating with academic experts on this complicated misinformation problem.