Facebook Ends ‘Disputed’ Tag for Fake News Because It Didn’t Work

Social network will start adding related articles to give “more context” to questionable posts

It’s not yet been a year, and Facebook has already decided to throw out its new key feature designed to combat fake news.

The social network announced it’s scrapping its “disputed” label for flagging questionable stories because the feature ended up reinforcing “deeply held beliefs,” rather than making users look with a skeptical eye. Instead, Facebook will start adding related articles next to links.

“Related Articles, by contrast, are simply designed to give more context, which our research has shown is a more effective way to help people get to the facts,” the company said in its blog post this week on the decision. “Indeed, we’ve found that when we show Related Articles next to a false news story, it leads to fewer shares than when the Disputed Flag is shown.”

Facebook said “academic research” showed putting a disputed tag did little to disabuse readers, which is something Yale professor David Rand told TheWrap about months ago. Rand said the initiative put in place by FB back in March, after Russia used the platform to meddle in the 2016 U.S. election, was “not really effective,” according to a university study.

The professor pointed to two reasons for this: The impact of flagging was “pretty small,” with a 3.7 percent decrease in “perceived accuracy” for articles with the disputed label. The second indicated a backfiring of sorts from the labeling process, where articles without the disputed tag are, by virtue, assumed to be true — even if they’re false.

“We call this the ‘implied truth effect,’” said Rand. “Because if you tag some stories, some people will assume all of the untagged stories — rather than being stories that haven’t been checked yet — they will assume they’re stories that have been checked and verified.”

Moving forward, Facebook’s updated strategy of adding related news will join its other moves in the fight again fake news, including demoting inaccurate articles on the News Feed, and using artificial intelligence to spot misleading posts.