Rather Than Blocking Fake News, Facebook Blocked a Site That Detects Fake News

A scourge of websites peddling fake news stories have run rampant on Facebook this year, prompting alarm that misinformation influenced the outcome of the presidential election and generally makes people dumber. For its part, Facebook initially wavered on the issue, with CEO Mark Zuckerberg playing down the effect of phony stories on the social network. But late last month, the tech mogul outlined a plan for the company to battle fake news.

So it’s curious, then, that Facebook today disabled a popular browser-extension that flags spurious news articles. Called B.S. Detector, the extension is known for initiating a warning when links hawking erroneous headlines -- like “Pope Francis Shocks The World, Endorses Donald Trump For President”-- appear in one’s newsfeed.

Since Facebook’s decision to block the B.S. Detector wasn’t publicly announced, the extension’s developer, Daniel Sieradski, had to notify the world of the news via Twitter:

When users tried linking to the extension’s web page, Facebook denied them, displaying in an error message that the site contained a breach of the company’s security policy.

B.S. Detector was only blocked temporarily, although Facebook hasn’t offered a reason as to why it was curbed at all. The extension checks links on a given web page, then scans them for connections to unreliable sources. So if you’re reading a site that traffics in conspiracy theories and junk science, or state media from a shadowy authoritarian state, B.S. Detector calls its bluff.

In the meantime, Facebook has erred on the side of caution when trying to suss out its fake news epidemic. Although B.S. Detector met a temporary demise on the site, there’s still a bunch of other extensions that flag fake news that haven’t been quietly disabled by the social network, including this handy tool, which was designed by some enterprising college students.  

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Sam Blum thinks that fake news is B.S. that needs to be detected. Follow him @Blumnessmonster.