Facebook fights fake news, state meddling

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Since the USA election's conclusion, Facebook has released several initiatives and tools aimed at helping users identify reputable news stories and sources, but has called information operations "insidious" because it " obscures and impairs" people's ability to have genuine conversations. The social-media giant said it has a responsibility to keep its community safe for authentic civic engagement, free from the influences of what it calls "information operations".

It also consists of content creation - false or real - either directly by the information operator, or by seeding stories to journalists and other third parties, including via fake online personas.

The paper was published by Alex Stamos, Facebook's chief security officer, and security engineers Jen Weedon and William Nuland. Collins said he was concerned about the speed with which Facebook responded to complaints about fake news, and he urged the company to start removing fake news "within hours".

Information operations include strategies like using fake accounts to spread false information, hijacking popular topics or manipulating likes on Facebook posts.

Just this month, Facebook rolled out new tools to combat fake news, including an educational tool that hovers at the top of a user's news feed to give them tips on how to spot false stories as well as launching a news integrity initiative.

Rather than "fake news" - a term Facebook believes has been rendered meaningless through overuse - its security team is now focused on what it's calling "information operations", which it defines as "actions taken by organized actors (governments or non-state actors) to distort domestic or foreign political sentiment, most frequently to achieve a strategic and/or geopolitical outcome". Other false personas pushed stories that expanded on that material. It said its data "does not contradict" the U.S. director of national intelligence's conclusion that Russian Federation was behind efforts to interfere with the USA election.

Once fake accounts posted erroneous information, it was "inevitable" that legitimate people continued to spread the message through their own networks. The report does not name any other countries. There are three main methods of information operations used by governments, and Facebook already has plans to take care of two of them.

That information in turn can be used to send convincing web links leading to malicious software or to map the social networks of the targets for further spying.

The company says it can detect this type of activity by analyzing the inauthenticity of the account and its behaviors, and not the content the accounts are publishing.

Though the goals may often be to promote one cause or candidate or to denigrate another, another objective appears to be sowing distrust and confusion in general, the authors wrote.

Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg initially called "a pretty insane idea", but Facebook has since made it easier to report possible hoaxes, add warnings before you share a disputed article and downplay questionable stories in your news feed.

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