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Free speech is great, right? Employed with the corresponding responsibility, it can be used to highlight social issues, spread information about cover ups and generally enlighten people.

When it comes to Facebook, freedom of speech is a given in the eyes of most users. However, this isn’t really the case at all. Facebook users need to keep in mind the fact that they are actually members of a service that is owned and controlled by someone else.

Facebook is a social playground, but you don’t own the facilities.

Even with this fact highlighted, the new Facebook flagging system is concerning. Introduced ostensibly to help Facebook remove fake news stories, thereby stopping such a post going viral, it turns out that the feature is open to abuse.

Hoax News Stories: A Genuine Threat To Security & Privacy

Stopping fake news stories is very important. A quick Google search for a term such as “Michael Caine RIP” will soon take you to en.mediamass.net/people/michael-caine/deathhoax.html, a website that ghoulishly generates income by displaying “death hoax” news reports.

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These pages are generated using the key details of the celebrity’s life and career, and the content is largely interchangeable. Often, a notice within the article will highlight that the report was a hoax, muddying the waters further still.

As hoaxes go, however, these are the “nice” side of the phenomenon.

The dark side, meanwhile, is the malware-laden or otherwise dangerous hoaxes that get shared Don't Get Suckered By The Facebook Graphic App Hoax [Weekly Facebook Tips] Don't Get Suckered By The Facebook Graphic App Hoax [Weekly Facebook Tips] Remember the mass scare on Facebook a while back where almost everyone changed their status to "I want to stay connected to you PRIVATELY, but you need to uncheck this that and the other"? It... Read More and go viral on Facebook. Naturally we need to avoid following these links, so the introduction of a hoax post option on Facebook The State Of The Union Online, Facebook Promises Fewer Hoaxes [Tech News Digest] The State Of The Union Online, Facebook Promises Fewer Hoaxes [Tech News Digest] The State Of The Union debuts online, Facebook reduces hoaxes, Netflix plans to expand, Wavelength waves goodbye, get Theme Hospital for free, and watch the trailer for Unfriended. Read More is appreciated.

Let’s take a look at how that works.

How To Highlight “Fake” News Stories on Facebook

You see a news story on Facebook. You know it to be fake or grossly inaccurate. What do you do?

Begin by clicking the down arrow in the top-right of a news item shared on your Facebook feed, and select I don’t like this post, followed by I think it shouldn’t be on Facebook. In the next screen, you’ll see a list of options, all of which are quite fair and useful:

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By selecting Something else, you open a new list, where you will find the option we’re looking for, It’s a false news story. Once selected, the item will be flagged internally, and removed from your feed. If enough people react the same way to the post, then it will be removed from Facebook itself.

This is a great way of stopping hoaxes going viral (something that is relatively straightforward to do How To Make A Facebook Post Go Viral [Weekly Facebook Tips] How To Make A Facebook Post Go Viral [Weekly Facebook Tips] You want your posts to get seen, right? But do you know how to actually get your posts to go viral? We've got some ideas for you that will improve your chances. Read More ). Naturally, it is open to abuse.

Other Flags That Might Be Used To Remove Stories From Facebook

By offering the hoax flagging system, Facebook intends to make it easier to discard items that threaten the security of its users. Other options exist, however, that make the ability to report, bury and remove items a little more sinister.

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Rather than selecting the false news story option, it’s possible to flag an item because It goes against my views. Facebook cites examples to help you decide, suggesting you use this option if the news post upsets your personal values, religion or politics.This is an uncomfortable development. Up until recently it was the case that if you don’t like something that someone says on Facebook, you could remove them from your friends list or “silence” them from your feed. Flagging such content has echoes of East Germany and other communist-era snitching; frankly, if you’re not mature enough to handle differing beliefs and opinions, you probably shouldn’t be online at all.

Stories that might offer an alternative political viewpoint could be subjected to the same sort of reporting as a hoax, or flagged because they’re deemed “offensive”. That calculation is useful here. One or two people objecting will make little difference. Dozens or hundreds, however, will result in an algorithm being executed, and the item being reviewed with a view to removal.

With the one hand, Facebook removes hoax items, thereby helping to protect online security and privacy. This is commendable. But what good does enabling a group of people to highlight a news story for removal because it carries views that they are uncomfortable with?

Government Employed Keyboard Warriors vs Freedom of Speech

You probably already know that government departments employ armies of commenters to manipulate discussions on bulletin boards, comment threads and social networks. You may have read about the 77th Brigade in the United Kingdom, a recently revived military unit charged with managing the official narrative of international events. In both cases, software that enables the operator to manage multiple accounts is employed, creating government mandated sock puppets.

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The potential for abuse in this new Facebook flagging system is clear. Moreover, those in charge of the social network are not being clear about this new feature, nor about the presence of, let’s call them “professional manipulators”. Ultimately, the entire service is being played by people who don’t have your interests at heart: advertisers, scammers, government alphabet agencies and the owners. How long will it take before reading “unapproved” news stories or expressing views that are at odds with those considered acceptable by the Facebook lands you in trouble?

Are you still using Facebook? Perhaps you’re finally getting fed up with what the social network is becoming? Let us know what you think.

Image Credit: Censored Social Media via ShutterstockRIP via ShutterstockKeyboard warrior via Shutterstock

  1. Loaded Mouse
    February 25, 2015 at 9:55 pm

    The article opens talking about "corresponding responsibility." The reason any flagging is needed is because of the appalling lack of any responsibility on the part of too many users. If you don't step up against abusers, the platform just might. Secondly, Facebook are not fools, they know full well that any flagging mechanism is primed for abuse. All flagging mechs have a person behind it and the army of us to call-out abuses. You can't deep-six any news story you want.

    • Christian Cawley
      February 26, 2015 at 4:48 pm

      Couldn't agree more. Responsibility is seriously lacking in the majority of online interactions.

  2. Deester
    February 25, 2015 at 6:51 pm

    Facebook, (or MyFace as my mom keeps calling it...she's not hip to it, nor is she interested, lol), will do as it pleases. Folks will complain about changes, but keep on using it. Meanwhile, I'm just waiting to be able to use GIFs for my profile pic and timeline cover. I've some pretty awesome stuff in my arsenal at the ready. =-P

    • Christian Cawley
      February 26, 2015 at 4:47 pm

      Under the circumstances I think we should *all* call it MyFace! Your mom sounds like she really does know what she's talking about.

  3. James Howde
    February 25, 2015 at 4:52 pm

    This is quite a good idea in principle but won't work because, unless I'm missing something, facebook isn't going to do any work itself.

    The good side is that you can complain about false or trolling stories and, if enough people agree with you, those will be flagged as possibly untrue as a warning to others.

    The problem is that any group of reasonably organised people can do the same thing to any story they don't like without having to prove there is anything wrong with it in terms of truth or accuracy.

  4. dragonmouth
    February 25, 2015 at 3:17 pm

    With the new system, ANY story, whether true or bogus, can be deep-sixed if enough people can be mobilized against it. And the new flagging feature still does not guarantee that the spread of hoaxes will be stopped.

    • Tom S Jr
      February 25, 2015 at 3:41 pm

      Tell a LIE long enough and people will believe it.

      LEAVE THE INTERNET ALONE. If net neutrality passes, YOU CAN EXPECT MORE TAXATION AND REGULATION OF THE INTERNET. Anytime government gets involved in a free enterprise, expect TROUBLE.

    • Howard Pearce
      February 25, 2015 at 4:10 pm

      Here, here !!

      As I have been saying, freedom of speech AND press are but examples of our more general right to freedom of communication ...... even the wiki defines freedom of the press as such. "Freedom of the press or freedom of the media is the freedom of communication ...." (from wiki)

      I think it should be clear to anyone that Net Neutrality violates our freedom of communication by trying to dictate how that communication must be done ... namely "neutrally" , I guess.

      And what is NEUTRAL anyway ? I guess the state will decide that :D

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