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Facebook to introduce fake news warnings ahead of abortion referendum

Irish Facebook users from today will see notices on their personal pages warning them of how to spot false news.

The social networking giant says the educational notices are being put up, amid attempts to improve the quality of news appearing ahead of the abortion referendum next month. The cautions will go live later today, the Irish Examiner has learnt.

The Irish Examiner first reported the Facebook warnings last month.

The changes come as the firm also faces global criticism about how tens of millions of users' personal data was shared and mined for political reasons.

Founder Mark Zuckerberg this week faced questions from US politicians about what the company is doing to help users prevent sharing their data with third parties.

In a statement, Niamh Sweeney, Head of Public Policy, Facebook Ireland said: “Improving news literacy is a global priority for Facebook, particularly so for us here in Ireland given the upcoming referendum in May.

"We understand and share people’s desire to see accurate information online and introducing this tool is an important start to improving news literacy in Ireland. However, we know it is just the beginning and we have more work to do to ensure Facebook’s News Feed is a place for authentic communication.”

The notice will feature at the top of Facebook's news feed and offer users tips on how to spot false news.

When people click on notices, they will see more details including advice such as checking the URL of the site, investigating the source of news and looking for further reports on a topic.

The move comes after recent confirmation by the Broadcasting Authority of Ireland and the independent referendum commission that they will have no role in supervising or policing content on social media websites during referendum campaigning.

A number of TDs have raised concerns the different sides in the campaign may try and influence voters with fake news during the coming weeks before the controversial May 25 vote.

    Among the tips being proposed by Facebook to steer clear of fake news, include:

  • Be careful reading headlines. False news stories can have catchy headlines in capital letters with exclamation points. If shocking claims in the headline sound unbelievable, they may be.
  • Look closely at the URL. A bogus or lookalike URL may be a warning sign of false news. Many false news sites mimic authentic news sources by making small changes to the URL. You can go to the site and compare the URL to established sources.
  • Investigate the source. Ensure that the story is written by a source that you trust with a reputation for accuracy. If the story comes from an unfamiliar organisation, check their “About” section to learn more.
  • Watch for unusual formatting. Many false news sites have misspellings or awkward layouts. Read carefully if you see these signs:

    Consider the photos False news stories often contain manipulated images or videos. Sometimes the photo may be authentic, but taken out of context. You can search for the photo or image to verify where it came from.

  • Is the story a joke? Sometimes false news stories can be hard to distinguish from humour or satire. Check whether the source is known for parody, and whether the story’s details and tone suggest it may be just for fun.