Maybe Facebook Needs Satire Tags After All

Ebola hysteria is fueling fake news-sharing on social media. Perhaps Facebook's derided satire tags are necessary after all.

satire tag

Facebook has been testing satire tags for fake news sites like The Onion, prompting derision from the satirical news site itself. We previously wrote about how such a tag would take the fun out of the joke:

The problem with tagging satire as satire is that it removes all the power from the joke. Hopefully, most people understand that satire is what The Onion does. While the satire tag isn’t breaking a core feature, it does pretty much ruin the joke for any satire publication out there that might get tagged in this new initiative.

However, with Ebola hysteria at an all-time high, The Verge reports on an epidemic of fake Ebola stories from fake news sites like The National Report:

These sites claim to be satirical but lack even incompetent attempts at anything resembling humor. They’re really fake news sites, posting scary stories and capitalizing on the decontextualization of Facebook’s news feed to trick people into sharing them widely. On Facebook, where stories look pretty much the same no matter what publication they’re coming from, and where news feeds are already full of panicked school closures, infected ISIS bogeymen, and DIY hazmat suits, the stories can fool inattentive readers into thinking they’re real. Panicked, they share, spreading the rumor farther and sending more readers to the story, generating ad revenue for the site.

While The Onion clearly identifies itself as a “satirical weekly publication” in its easy-to-find FAQ (linked to from the homepage), The National Report says it “may include unconfirmed or satirical material” on a hard-to-find legal page (emphasis ours). The page also says, “The entire contents of this website are based upon the opinions of writers with National Report, unless otherwise noted.”

The National Report saw a huge surge of traffic thanks to its fake Ebola reports. Even when fake news is debunked, the untruthful report still gets more widely shared than articles debunking the report.

From The Verge:

Debunking fake stories has a limited effect: a Facebook data science study earlier this year found that putting a link to the rumor-debunking site Snopes into fake stories made people four times more likely to delete their link, but the story continued to spread. “This suggests that their high virality can overcome the temporary setback dealt by being Snoped,” wrote the researchers.

Facebook’s attempts to de-emphasize clickbait headlines with its news feed algorithm doesn’t seem to be having much effect on the shareability of fake stories. The satire tags Facebook is currently testing only show up in its related articles module. Perhaps the network needs the option of satire tags on all links.