Interior Ministry met with Facebook over fake news

The Czech government is concerned about false stories influencing Czech elections

The Czech Interior Ministry wants to work with Facebook to stop the spread of fake news so it won't influence the upcoming parliamentary elections to be held in October 2017. The two sides have met on the issue, but how the cooperation will work in not clear.

Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg has also recently said he considers the spread of fake news over Facebook to be an important issue and that the company planned to take steps to combat it.

Interior Ministry spokesman Jiří Korbel said that at a meeting took place between ministry representatives and Gabriella Cseh, the director of public policy for Facebook in Central and Eastern Europe. The spokesman said he hoped cooperation would start as soon as possible but declined to give further details of the meeting, according to news server Aktualne.cz.

A source familiar with the Interior Ministry's Center Against Terrorism and Hybrid Threats (CTHH) told Aktualne.cz that the Interior Ministry has a plan but the form of the cooperation has not yet been decided. The CTHH was set up at the end of 2016 in part to combat the spread of fake news.

The Interior Ministry's idea is that people using Facebook could draw attention to an article that they suspect contains false information. The social media site would then forward the questioned article to an independent center for evaluation. If it turns out the information in the article is not accurate, the article would be tagged with a warning that the information is not true. Facebook could also then refer users to sites that contain more accurate information on the topic. It is not clear who would run the independent evaluation center or what criteria it would use to evaluate the stories.

Facebook's Cseh previously told Aktualne.cz that Facebook was dealing with the same issue in other countries, and that a pilot project would be launched in France and some other countries to deal with how to handle fake news. She did not give further details. France is also in the midst of elections.

Josef Šlerka, head of new media studies at the Philosophical Faculty of Charles University, told Aktualne.cz that marking fake news will have some effect at stopping or slowing it, but there will still be people who will continue to go to rely on sites with fake news because their minds are already convinced about a topic, and the fake news confirms their already strong beliefs.

Šlerka said that the spread of fake news was undermining the credibility of Facebook globally, and the social media company needs to address the issue. He mentioned several options that Facebook could use, ranging from labeling fake news to preventing such articles from being shared at all.

Fake news has been cited as a factor in the election of US President Donald Trump, a Republican who won despite having fewer votes than his closest rival, Democrat Hillary Clinton.

After the US election, Facebook's Zuckerberg said that he acknowledged that there had been some fake news spread on the social media site. “This is an area where I believe we must proceed very carefully though. Identifying the 'truth' is complicated. While some hoaxes can be completely debunked, a greater amount of content, including from mainstream sources, often gets the basic idea right but some details wrong or omitted. An even greater volume of stories express an opinion that many will disagree with and flag as incorrect even when factual. I am confident we can find ways for our community to tell us what content is most meaningful, but I believe we must be extremely cautious about becoming arbiters of truth ourselves,” he said in November 2016.

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