Identifying Nuances in Fake News vs. Satire: Using Semantic and Linguistic Cues

November 4, 2019

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The efforts by social media platforms to reduce the exposure of users to misinformation have resulted, on several occasions, in flagging legitimate satire stories. To avoid penalizing publishers of satire, which is a protected form of speech, the platforms have begun to add more nuance to their flagging systems. Facebook, for instance, added an option to mark content items as “Satire”, if “the content is posted by a page or domain that is a known satire publication, or a reasonable person would understand the content to be irony or humor with a social message” (Facebook). This notion of humor and social message is also echoed in the definition of satire by Oxford dictionary as “the use of humour, irony, exaggeration, or ridicule to expose and criticize people’s stupidity or vices, particularly in the context of contemporary politics and other topical issues”.

The distinction between fake news and satire carries implications with regard to the exposure of content on social media platforms. While fake news stories are algorithmically suppressed in the news feed, the satire label does not decrease the reach of such posts. This also has an effect on the experience of users and publishers. For users, incorrectly classifying satire as fake news may deprive them from desirable entertainment content, while identifying a fake news story as legitimate satire may expose them to misinformation. For publishers, the distribution of a story has an impact on their ability to monetize content.

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