Facebook to Test Fake News Filtering in Germany

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Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg

The social media giant has announced a series of measures to curb online disinformation ahead of Germany's national election later this year.

Facebook on Sunday announced it will take measures to identify and reduced the distribution of fake news on its platform in Germany. The move comes as German politicians are calling for a crackdown on disinformation ahead of key elections in Germany this year.

Under the new initiative, Facebook will create tools to make it easier for users to flag suspected articles, which will be checked by independent nonpartisan groups, including German nonprofit investigative collective Correctiv.

If the stories or their sources are found to be unreliable, they will be deprioritized in Facebook's news feed algorithm, meaning fewer people will see the story in their feeds. Facebook also will add warning labels to disputed stories.

"We are working very carefully on a solution to this problem [of fake news],” Facebook said in a statement. “Our efforts are focused on the distribution of unique false alarms generated by spammers. We have also used third parties to provide objective, unbiased reviews of news.”

The German government has sounded the alarm over the issue of fake news ahead of national elections here next fall. Many fear false or misleading stories could influence voter behavior. Angela Merkel is running for a fourth term as German Chancellor but is facing a major challenge from a new right wing party, the AfD, that has attacked her liberal policy towards refugees. There has reportedly been a recent uptick in online articles linking Merkel to conspiracy theories.

Alt-right newsite Breitbart, which has announced plans to launch a German-language service before the election, recently made headlines with a report that a mob chanting Islamic slogans set fire to a church in the German city of Dortmund on New Year's Eve. The local police quickly quashed the story, saying the report distorted or grossly exaggerated the facts and that stray fireworks actually had caught in netting surrounding scaffolding on the church, creating a small fire that was quickly extinguished.

German Justice Minister Heiko Mass has repeatedly called on Facebook to respect Germany's laws against defamation and hate speech, which are considerably more strict than those in the U.S., and has warned those producing or disseminating fake news could face penalties and fines. Thomas Oppermann, a politician for the Social Democratic Party (SPD), has called for penalties and fines of up to €500,000 ($530,000) for social media companies that fail to delete a hate message or fake news report on their platforms within 24 hours.

Facebook recently unveiled a partnership with ABC News to flag and debunk fake news on its U.S. site. Working with Facebook and ABC on the U.S. initiative are fact-checking sites Snopes.com, FactCheck.org and PolitiFact.org.