Facebook has faced intense criticism in the aftermath of the US presidential elections for allowing fake news sites to spread false stories across the social media platform. Some critics believe the proliferation of misleading stories and hoaxes on the largest social networking site has helped Donald Trump to win. While Facebook has yet to take action against the problem, a basic solution has now emerged: B.S. Detector.
B.S. Detector is a browser plug-in that works to cross-reference news links on Facebook with a database of news sites flagged as fake. The plug-in is free to download for Chrome, Opera, Firefox, Safari, and Microsoft Edge users. The plug-in inserts a red warning sign at the top of the page in question if it detects a match. The warning message also includes the reason for flagging a website.
“This website is not a reliable news source. Reason: Conspiracy Theory.”
Other classifications for unreliable websites include satire, extreme bias, junk science, state news and hate groups. Activist and independent journalist Daniel Sieradski, who developed the plug-in, said the extension was born in response to Mark Zuckerberg’s claims that Facebook could not address the spread of fake news on the site.
B.S. Detector is not configurable
As a basic tool, B.S. Detector can only flag a fake news source, not block it. When users visit a flagged website, they can still read and browse stories. To unsuspecting readers, the blacklisted sites would still appear as reliable sources of information. The extension also prevents users from customizing the list of flagged sites or picking only those categories that interest them.
Sieradski, however, promised to continuously update the database and offer a way to let websites appeal to their classification. There’s the rub: B.S. Detector might have flagged websites as fake news sites even if they’re not exactly misleading. It would be unsafe to rely on the plug-in alone to tell real stories from fake. This practice could lead to censorship in the long run. Facebook will do well to collaborate with the media and academic institutions to classify false stories without biases.