Social media sites '˜should verify content to tackle fake news'

Stories shared on Facebook and other social media should be verified to prove they are not fake news, the chairman of a parliamentary inquiry into the phenomenon has said.

Conservative MP Damian Collins, who chairs the Culture, Media and Sport Select Committee that has launched an inquiry into fake news, said sites such as Facebook must take more responsibility for the spread of stories on their sites.

Mr Collins said he supports the idea of using a verification process for stories and news sources to show users where content comes from.

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Concerns have been raised that the spread of fake news stories could have influenced political debate as well as the US election last year, something Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg has strongly denied.

Mr Collins said the inquiry wanted to “understand the sites and sources around fake news” and would look into how they can be controlled, including the introduction of a verification process similar to one used for accounts on Twitter.

“Users can rely on it,” the Folkestone and Hythe MP said.

“It’s a good example of how that system can work, and we wonder if we could use something similar here to verify those sources that are not linked to fake news and that prioritises real stories over fake.

“We also want to look at how these stories are presented online.

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“If you look at places such as Google News, there are no marks or ways to differentiate between stories, so you don’t know if you’re looking at something from the Press Association or the Financial Times for example, or something from a less reputable site.

“More needs to be done to give people the tools to deal with this.”

In announcing the inquiry, the committee also said it had concerns about the “significant impact” fake news could have on democracy, with Mr Collins claiming that in the final three months of the US presidential campaign, the top 20 fake news stories were more widely shared across social media than the top 20 legitimate stories.

“These companies like Facebook and Google accept they have a social obligation to combat illicit material,” he said.

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“But I think they also have a responsibility to look at the sources of fake news and either ban those sites from being shared on their platform or change their algorithm so people are directed to sites and sources that we know are verified.”

In a statement, Facebook said it was committed to combating fake news on its platform.

“We want people to feel confident that what they see on Facebook is meaningful and authentic, and recently announced a series of measures designed to tackle hoax news on our platform,” a spokesman for the social network said.

“We take this responsibility very seriously. We understand there is still more work to do and we are committed to working with others to do so.”

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Mr Collins also said it was crucial to differentiate between dealing with fake news and censoring content.

“You have to draw a line between calling something fake news because you don’t like it - a key part of journalism has always been opinion - and something that is clearly fabricated, either to sensationalise something or for more malicious means,” he said.