Do you mainly get your news from Facebook? If so, can you tell when a story is real and when it's fake?
Apparently, Facebook doesn't think that distinction is easy to make, which is why for the past month it's been testing out a new feature that labels fake news stories with a "Satire" tag, according to Ars Technica. Examples include stories from the satirical news site The Onion.
In a statement to the press, Facebook said the test is meant to appease users who have apparently complained that they can't always tell the difference between what's real and what's not.
"We are running a small test which shows the text '[Satire]' in front of links to satirical articles in the related articles unit in News Feed. This is because we received feedback that people wanted a clearer way to distinguish satirical articles from others in these units," said a Facebook representative.
The 'Satire' label does not appear on articles when they initially pop up in a news feed. Rather, that label appears only under the 'Related Articles' tab once you've clicked on a satirical article and then returned to your news feed and have been given a list of three related stories. In the case of an Onion article, for example, should another Onion story come up in the 'Related' category, it would be marked as 'Satire.' The 'Satire' label appears in brackets before the article headline.
However, the 'Satire' tag disappears if you save an article to read at a later time. Any articles posted to The Onion's official Facebook page are not tagged either. Some satirical sites do not receive tags at all. For example, articles from The Onion's new site Clickhole, designed to spoof Buzzfeed, are also not tagged, according to Ars Technica.
While The Onion is a well-known publication founded in 1988, this new tag could help Facebook users discerning the fake content of lesser-known satirical sites. For example, last year the fake news blog The Daily Currant reported that the former Republican vice presidential running mate Sarah Palin would be joining Al Jazeera America as a commentator and host. Though false, the story was picked up and published as real by The Washington Post, which subsequently had to issue a story correction.
There's even a blog called Literally Unbelievable that is dedicated to showcasing instances in which Facebook users are fooled into believing the fake news they see on their news feeds.
Facebook itself has also come under scrutiny for its practices of pushing related articles on readers. Earlier this year, Facebook users clicking on a news link about Michelle Obama's encounter with a 10-year-old girl whose father was out of work, were greeted with related articles that contained salacious content about the president and the first lady.
In response, Facebook explained that these were the results of algorithms that looked for key words and the popularity of articles on a certain topic when recommending articles to readers. This drew strong criticism, particularly from the journalism community. And it is concerning when such a large purveyor of news makes no effort to critique or vet its content, Emily Bell, director of Columbia Journalism School’s Tow Center for Digital Journalism, told The Boston Globe in May.