Do you ever wonder if a story you see on Facebook is so sensational that it must not be true? Well, in the case of these fraudulent websites, you are likely correct. We work so hard to make sure the stories we publish are accurate and well researched. It’s infuriating that Facebook is allowing websites who are posting bald face lies to fill up my news feed on Facebook. While we can’t verify it, we have to believe since we haven’t “liked” any of the pages where these FAKE websites are posting from that they must be paying Facebook for their stories to show up in my newsfeed. This kind of garbage gives everyone who works hard to verify news a bad name…
You might expect Allen Montgomery to be deferential toward Facebook, given that the $300 billion company is both his biggest nemesis and financial lifeline. Nope. If anything, the proprietor of the fake news site National Report is utterly defiant. “You will never stop misinformation or fake news,” he said. “Someone will always be telling lies out there.”
True enough. Fake news is a scourge, but so far it appears to be an unstoppable one, showing up everywhere from your gullible friend’s timeline, to the pages of the New York Times.
A little more than year ago, in reaction to the proliferation of fake news stories across its News Feed, Facebook declared war on sites like Montgomery’s — which exist to produce very clickable, but completely false, news stories that are designed to gin up reactions on Facebook — and to make a quick buck on ads when people click through to the site. Facebook’s declaration of war was significant since its News Feed, the most powerful information distribution tool in the world, was fueling most of these sites’ reach.
Yet thanks to new tactics and a healthy interest in the typically sensational stories they publish, fake news sites still enjoy widespread reach on Facebook, according to a BuzzFeed News analysis of post engagement data across nine top fake news sites. In many ways, it is the golden age of fake news. Easy access to publishing tools makes it easier than ever to create news sources meant to mislead. And social distribution channels give the stories published by these outlets a clear path to the masses. Facebook does, however, claim to be making headway overall.
“Overall since we rolled out updates to down-rank hoaxes on Facebook, we have seen a decline in shares on most hoax sites and posts,” a Facebook spokesperson told BuzzFeed News, describing the process by which it assigns items in its feed high or low rankings, which subsequently affects how often they appear.
(We have never seen more fake news sites, publishing outright lies on Facebook than we’re seeing today.)
To gauge Facebook’s progress in its fight, BuzzFeed News’ examined data across thousands of posts published to the fake news sites’ Facebook pages, and found decidedly mixed results. While average engagements (likes + shares + comments) per post fell from 972.7 in January 2015 to 434.78 in December 2015, they jumped to 827.8 in January 2016 and a whopping 1304.7 in February.
Without having access to Facebook’s own data (which the company declined to provide), it is difficult to determine the number of people who actually saw these posts. However, adding up the likes, shares and comments to determine a post’s engagement number provides a good proxy for its reach. These three factors are important influencers of Facebook’s algorithm, which determines what shows up in News Feed.
Some of the posts on the fake news sites’ pages went extremely viral many months after Facebook announced its crackdown. In August, for instance, an Empire News story reporting that Boston Marathon Bombing suspect Dzhokhar Tsarnaev sustained serious injuries in prison received more than 240,000 likes, 43,000 shares and 28,000 comments on its Facebook page. The incident was pure fiction, but still spread like wildfire on the platform. An even less believable September post about a fatal gang war sparked by the ‘Blood’ Moon was shared over 22,000 times from the Facebook page of Huzlers, another fake news site.
Some people sharing these stories may understand they’re looking at potentially specious stuff, “I so hope this is true!” wrote one person who shared the Tsarnaev story. But many others clearly have no idea. “Good for the bastard,” wrote another. “Maybe he should have left America alone,” wrote another. (And the majority of people sharing the posts seem to do so with no added commentary at all.)
BuzzFeed News’ analysis covered the following nine sites: National Report, Huzlers, Empire News, The Daily Currant, I Am Cream Bmp, CAP News, NewsBiscuit.com, Call the Cops and World News Daily Report. All nine were drawn from the ‘Fake/Hoax News Websites’ section of fakenewswatch.com, and were still actively publishing fake news after being listed.
BuzzFeed News tested engagement on these sites in two ways. First, we tracked the engagement numbers on the sites’ individual Facebook posts. Second, we looked at engagement data on all off the public posts that linked back to stories appearing on these sites. The data was obtained via CrowdTangle, a company that tracks social engagement and plugs into Facebook’s API, and analyzed with VQL.
Huzlers, the website that fabricated a gang war, saw engagement for public posts linking to its content across Facebook go from 294.9 per post in January 2015 to 340.6 in mid-December. At one point in November 2015, public links to Huzlers content on Facebook garnered 1,000.7 engagements per post.
Fake News Super Seeders
Links to fake news posts spread across Facebook via a number of different channels. They move on the pages set up by the publications themselves, but to leap past their existing audiences, they need people to share them. And BuzzFeed News found they spread in this way thanks to some surprising third parties that act as super seeders.
Take D.L. Hughley, for example. The comedian, whose page is liked by more than 1.7 million people, showed up twice in the Huzlers logs. One fictitious Huzlers story he posted about Magic Johnson donating blood garnered more than 10,000 shares from his page. Hughley, who did not respond to BuzzFeed News request for comment, also shared four National Report links in 2015.
Radio stations also frequently post fake news. The Florida-based 93XFM was one of a number of radio stations BuzzFeed News discovered sharing Huzlers posts in 2015. Asked about one April post linking to a Huzlers story about a woman smoking PCP and chewing off her boyfriend’s penis, a 93XFM DJ named Sadie explained that fact-checking Facebook posts isn’t exactly a high priority.
In its post last January announcing plans to decrease reach for fake news stories, Facebook said it would rely on user feedback — in the form of flagging posts as fake or mass deletions — to determine when to decrease the reach of fake posts. But when celebrities like D.L. Hugely and radio stations post these stories, it reduces the chance of that happening for a simple, very social, reason: people assume sources they like enough to follow on Facebook won’t steer them wrong. Via: Buzzfeed