- The Washington Times - Tuesday, December 13, 2016

A new effort launched this week by staffers at Slate, the predominately left-leaning online magazine, intends to stop the spread of so-called “fake news” stories across the web’s largest social network.

“This is Fake,” a browser plugin unveiled by Slate on Tuesday, gives Facebook users advance notice of illegitimate articles before they can be tricked into navigating away from the website.

The product of a post-Election Day hackathon, the plugin visually warns Facebook users of the presence of fictitious articles being shared on social media by placing a bright red banner on content considered by Slate to be “fake news.”

By cross-referencing content with a database of websites already deemed bogus by Slate’s staffers, the plugin automatically flags articles hosted on website that have been determined to be devoid of actual news with the warning: “FAKE: This story comes from a source known for spreading fake news.

Additionally, Facebook users who install the plugin can manually flag content on their own as bogus, sending it to Slate’s editorial staff for further review. Unlike similar attempts waged previously, however, the plugin also gives users the ability to provide a link to an actual article debunking the bogus content, allowing future would-be readers to consider an article’s validity by comparing it with authenticated, actual news.

“We wanted to do this in a way that would let people take action, and we’re doing this in a way that actually encourages more speech — this is fighting bad speech with more speech. We’re not hiding articles, we’re not removing links or blocking them out of people’s newsfeeds,” explained Slate’s vice chairman, Dan Check.

“We’re encouraging people to engage,” Mr. Check told the Nieman Journalism Lab this week. “We think there’s going to be a set of people who want to be on the lookout for these things. And that set of people should be engaging in a dialogue with other people, and bring some facts into the equation.”

In announcing the tool this week, Slate acknowledged that recent discussions surrounding the fake news phenomenon have erroneously resulted in some legitimate websites to be called into question. According to Mr. Check, Slate purposely narrowed its definition of fake in order to ensure that fringe and niche websites are wrongly cast as bogus.

“Divining people’s intentions may be hard, but the reality is, we’re a media company, and one of the things we do all day is separate fact from fiction. This is not a new problem for our staffers. It’s a set of judgments, a set of discernments, that we hire people to make,” he said.

In the wake of concerns being raised over fake news having possibly affected the outcome of last month’s White House race, President Obama recently addressed the repercussions of allowing bogus articles to be propagated across social networks like Facebook, an unparalleled platform for sharing content on account of boasting more than a billion active daily users.

“If we are not serious about facts and what’s true and what’s not, if we can’t discriminate between serious arguments and propaganda, then we have problems,” Mr. Obama said at a press conference in Germany last month.

On Tuesday, a top executive at Britain’s Channel 4 television network acknowledged that fake news may soon pose a problem beyond the United States.

“Fake news does not seem to be quite so rife in the UK, yet the US is often the canary in the coalmine,” Channel 4 board member and chief marketing and communications officer, Dan Brooke, told the Westminster Media forum on Tuesday, The Guardian reported. “We have more than three years before our next general election, so let’s act now to ensure the same doesn’t happen here.”

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