Facebook’s Fake News Problem Could Have Been Solved In An Hour

A web developer created an extension called "B.S. Detector" that flags fake news outlets

Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg — REUTERS
Nov 22, 2016 at 12:52 PM ET

In the wake of Donald Trump’s surprising presidential victory, Facebook faced an onslaught of criticism for disseminating fake news, which some say is a likely contributor to the election results. The problem has inspired at least one web developer to take action.

“I read Mark Zuckerberg’s comments that he couldn’t really fix the problem of fake news on his platform and I found that to be laughably untrue, and I decided to show how untrue it was by resolving the problem myself with just a few lines of Java Script,” Daniel Sieradski, a web designer and developer from Upstate New York, told Vocativ.

Sieradski created the Chrome Extension B.S. Detector which highlights a fake article with a red banner that reads “this website is considered a questionable source.” The extension draws from a list of hundreds of fake news outlets that Sieradski and others have flagged and include fake news, satire, hate group and others. When installed, the red notification will appear before clicking on the fake news site itself or on Facebook.

Sieradski released this extension late last week and says that it took him about an hour to create. As of of November 20, there have already been over 15,000 downloads.

Following the election results, Zuckerberg called the notion that fake news could affect someone’s choice of candidate, a “pretty crazy idea” and denied Facebook’s influence in spreading fake news. Despite the fact that Facebook is not a media company, it’s where 44 percent of the US population now gets their news, according to a recent Pew study. Zuckerberg has since revised his statement and Facebook has taken steps to ban fake news outlets from being shared on their advertising network.

Yet, B.S. Detector and other programming models that have been quickly put together since the election, suggest that the solution may have been more simple. “While I don’t support censorship and believe anybody should be able to write whatever they want, adding a warning that a given site is not a reliable source of information because of a rhetoric of misleading the public is a completely legitimate step to take to make sure people are aware of where their information is coming from,” Sieradski says.

Sieradski has been involved in web development work for progressive political causes, but he says, “when it came to this application specifically, I’m really not trying to impose my own political bias on the list of sites included. There are plenty of left wing sites that are also questionable sources that are included in the list so I don’t see this as an extension of my activism so as a response to the misleading statements of Mark Zuckerberg.”

The description to the B.S. Detector states that it is hastily assembled, and does not guarantee complete accuracy over the data it presents. Users are encouraged to contribute or object to sites on the list, which is open access. At present the extension is “proof of concept, not a fully developed product, and is presently undergoing development.” Yet it does suggest that the fake news problem could potentially have been solved in about an hour.