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Bad News for Hoaxes, Good News for Your Facebook Feed

Quick, do you remember what future date Marty McFly travels to from 1985 in the film Back to the Future II?

Even if you don’t right now, your memory may have already been tested. Since 2010, multiple #futureday memes have circulated far and wide, each with the same message: today is the “destination time” that Doc Brown programmed into the DeLorean’s console. The memes are usually accompanied by photo “proof” — none of it real. The images have been intentionally Photoshopped with false dates.

Fake "proof" from one of the #futureday meme hoaxes circulating social media
Fake “proof” from one of the #futureday meme hoaxes circulating social media

The relentless wave of fake news

I bring this particular Back to the Future II meme up because it’s one of several hoaxes I’ve seen floating around my Facebook feed. Like other hoaxes, its success is predicated on a passive audience and an emotional appeal to nostalgia, curiosity, or fear. Hoax creators know most people won’t take the take the time to verify information, only to pass it on. In this way, fake stories continue to get viral attention — and creators continue to rake in the traffic revenue.

And the hoaxes never, ever seem to die, just get reborn again with every new wave of unsuspecting folks.

Mark your calendars: we won’t arrive at #futureday for real until October 21, 2015.

Facebook strikes a blow against fake news

There’s good news, though: Facebook is implementing some changes that may help you eliminate hoaxes from your news feed. In fact, the changes depend on you taking an active role in policing your feed.

Now, when you click to hide a post (the arrow to the right of every post in your feed), you can choose to report it as false from the list of options in the dropdown.

fb-news-feed-report-false

What happens after that?

After you report a post as false, it doesn’t get deleted by Facebook. This is good, since it reduces the impact of people who might maliciously report posts as false even when they’re true.

What happens instead is that Facebook’s algorithm pays attention to the number of times a post gets reported as false and/or deleted by the original poster — since users often delete their posts later, after finding out they were tricked. Posts that get reported more frequently will ultimately receive reduced distribution in news feeds. And the less distribution a post gets, the fewer people will see it.

If everyone makes an effort to report fake stories, soon no one will have to deal with seeing them in their feeds. And since we still don’t have hoverboards or flying cars yet, going hoax-free on Facebook is the closest to the “future” we’ll get in 2015.

Tip: If you want to check the accuracy of any particular story or claim before reporting it, visit Snopes.com first — this website has information on almost any rumor out there.

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