Facebook fights fake news

Facebook is taking what it calls a "first step" toward helping Canadians tell the difference between fake news and the real thing online.

As of Friday, the social media giant will post a banner on the top of news feeds in Canada and 14 other countries that directs subscribers to a tip sheet that it hopes will educate users on how they can decipher what is, or isn't, false or misleading information.

"It's the first time we're doing something of this magnitude," said Kevin Chan, head of public policy at Facebook.

The banner, to be posted "for a few days," is effectively a public service announcement to the media company's 22 million Canadian subscribers that encourages them to click a link to a 10-point "tip sheet" on how to spot scam information.

The top suggestion: "Be skeptical of headlines." Facebook points out that false news stories often carry catchy headlines, sometimes in all caps.

"If shocking claims in the headline sound unbelievable, they probably are," reads the tip sheet, a copy of which was provided to The Canadian Press.

The project is the result of a collaboration with media literacy agency MediaSmarts to help Canadians filter their news feeds for fake content, a phenomenon that became a growing concern during and after the 2016 U.S. presidential election campaign.

But don't expect to see direct warnings attached to potentially dubious Canadian news stories any time soon, like some European and American subscribers get.

Facebook says it's still too soon to attach warning labels on so-called "disputed" news stories, like those already being offered to users in the United States, France and the Netherlands.

Facebook users in those countries can flag news stories for false or misleading content by clicking on a grey downward arrow button on the right side of an article.

"We have very much approached this as 'tests,'" said Chan. "Being able to label (content) is something that one has to be careful about. You don't want to mistakenly label things that may actually be legitimate opinion or satire."

While the so-called fake news phenomenon has manifested itself widely in the United States and parts of Europe — particularly around election campaigns — "in Canada it has not played out in the same way," Chan said.

More Canada News