A Suggested Improvement to Facebook’s Information Panel: Stories “About” Not “From”

Facebook has a news information panel, and I like it lots. But it could be better. First, let’s look at where it works. Here it is with a decent news source:

Untitled Project

That’s good. The info button throws the Wikipedia page up there, which is the best first stop.  We got the blue checkmark there, and some categorization. I can see its location and its founding date, both of which are quick signals to orient me to what sort of site this is.

There’s also the “More from this website.” Here’s where I differ with Facebook’s take. I don’t think this is a good use of space. Students always think they can tell what sort of site a site is from the stories they publish. I’m skeptical. I know that once you know a site is fake then suddenly of course you feel like you could have told from the sidebar.  But I run classes on this stuff and watch faculty and students try to puzzle this out in real time, and frankly they aren’t so good at it. If I lie and hint to them it’s a good site, bad headlines look fine. If I lie and hint it’s bogus site, real headlines look fake. It’s just really prone to reinforcing initial conceptions.

I get that what’s supposed to happen is that users see the stories and then click that “follow” button if they like what they see. But that’s actually the whole “pages” model that burned 2016 down to the ground. You should not be encouraging people to follow things before they see what other sites say about it.

Take this one — this says RealFarmacy is a news site, and there’s no Wikipedia page to really rebut that. So we’re left with the headlines from RealFarmacy:

realfarm

OK, so of course if you think this site is bogus beforehand it is so clear what these stories mean about the site. But look, if you clicked it it’s because a site named RealFarmacy seemed legit to you. These headlines are not going to help you — and if the site plays its cards right, it’s really easy to hack credibility into this box by altering their feed and interspersing boring stories with clickbaity ones. It’s a well known model, and Facebook is opening itself up to it here.

A better approach is to use the space for news about the site. Here’s some news about RealFarmacy.com:

real farmacy

Which one of these is more useful to you? I’m going to guess the bottom one. The top one is a set of signals that RealFarmacy is sending out about itself. It’s what it wants its reputation to be. The bottom one? That’s what its reputation is. And as far as I can tell it’s night and day.

This is why the technique we show students when investigating sites is to check Wikipedia first, but, if that doesn’t give a result, check for Google News coverage on the organization second. Step one, step two. It works like a charm and Facebook should emulate it.

Can you do this for everything? Sure. In fact, for most legit sites the “News about this source” panel would be boring, but boring is good!

news

Just scanning this I can see the Tribune has a long history, and is a probably a sizable paper. That’s not perfect, but probably more useful than the feed that tells me they have a story about a fraternity incident at Northwestern.

This won’t always work perfectly — occasionally you’ll get the odd editorial calling CNN “fake news” at the top. And people might overly fixate on Bezos’s appearance in coverage about the WaPo. But those misfires are probably worth filling in the data void in Wikipedia around a lot of these clickbait sites with news results that give some insight into the source. Pulling the site’s feed is an incomplete solution, and one that bad actors will inevitably hack.

Anyway, the web is a network of sites, and reputation is on the network, not the node. It’s a useful insight for programmers, but a good one for readers too. Guide users towards that if you want to have real impact.

3 thoughts on “A Suggested Improvement to Facebook’s Information Panel: Stories “About” Not “From”

  1. Pingback: A Suggested Improvement to Facebook’s Information Panel: Stories “About” Not “From”

  2. “More from this Website” is disingenuous in another way as well: it’s really just another way that the site can advertise its own stories. Surprisingly few students recognize advertising in its myriad current forms! In the case of the RealFarmacy site you show, there is nothing at all about the site displayed, so Facebook is really just letting a bogus news site promote itself. “More ABOUT this Website” would be a HUGE improvement.

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