Experiment backfires as dubious content gets bumped up news feeds.

These days, the most caustic insult you can hurl at an online post is “fake news.” With the abundance of troll trash floating around about even the most mildly politicized topics, avid internet users are faced wading through the debris in order to find credible news reports of current events.

Recently, Facebook was charged in the court of public opinion with furthering the fake news by bumping it up higher in many users’ news feeds. In order to combat the cesspool of untrustworthy sources, the social media masterminds experimented with a new concept: moving up comments and posts that included the words “fake news” so that disputes against articles or posts could be visible.

A Facebook test that promoted comments containing the word fake to the top of news feeds has been criticised by users.

Facebook test that promoted comments containing the word ‘fake’ to the top of news feeds, criticised by users.

Wait, what?

To say it backfired would be an understatement. At the heart of this issue is something that has confounded the site’s users for ages, namely, that some content gets more “weight” and therefore more visibility than others. In this case, it’s that Facebook bumped up comments in which users had stated the content was fake news.

Lack of scrutiny 

According to Engadget, “Users included in the test noted that the system was simply promoting comments that included keywords like “fake” or “lie,” regardless of what the comment was saying. It wasn’t picky about the source stories, either, so you’d see these incredulous statements highlighted on trustworthy articles. How are you supposed to trust Facebook’s judgment if it isn’t scrutinizing the content of the stories themselves?”

Point in case

The current scandal involving pedophilia accusations against the expected winner of Alabama’s Senate seat could be a prime example. As soon as the Washington Post–the very same news outlet who broke the Nixon Watergate scandal and who is owned by billionaire Trump donor Jeff Bezos–released its story on Roy Moore and the women who claim he targeted them when they were mere teenagers, the internet exploded with cries of “fake news”. By Facebook’s logic, those comments would be prioritized in users’ feeds.

While Facebook has put an end to that one, the company says it will continue working to fight back against untruthful, “fake” news.