SCOTT SIMON, HOST:
This is WEEKEND EDITION from NPR News. I'm Scott Simon. Earlier this month, Pluto passed directly behind Jupiter, which counteracted the Earth's gravity. And for a brief moment, everybody on Planet Earth was weightless. Well, actually, that didn't happen. But maybe you read on Facebook that it was going to. This week, Facebook made sharing news stories like that a little more difficult. The company is making changes that will allow users to report fake news. NPR's digital culture correspondent Laura Sydell joins us in our studios. Laura, thanks very much for being with us.
LAURA SYDELL, BYLINE: You're welcome.
SIMON: What's Facebook done? What will we see?
SYDELL: OK, so when you're on Facebook and say your Auntie posts something about a 28-foot alligator, and you actually believe it for a moment, and then you start to dig and realize, OK, it's not possible for there to be a 28-foot alligator, there's a little drop-down menu up on the corner of the post. You bring down the drop-down menu and it allows you to report something as being spam or to report something that is a photo of yourself you don't like, and now they're adding fake news. So you can now report something as being fake news. If enough people do that, what will happen is that Facebook will start to not show that post anymore. You still want to see what your Auntie posts, so if your Auntie is somebody who is close to you, you'll see her post, but you'll also see something that says this has been labeled fake news. So that's how it works.
SIMON: And Facebook is doing this because?
SYDELL: Because they've gotten complaints from their users. So Facebook says they don't want people to go away. They want them to stay and feel happy with their newsfeed. And if this is upsetting people, that's why they've added this.
SIMON: Well, let me understand this. Facebook is not making any effort to investigate the veracity of the stories. They're just throwing it open for a vote.
SYDELL: That's right. So if enough people keep saying this is a fake news story, this is a fake news story, the algorithms - so this is totally done by computer - will then just start to not post it on people's feeds.
SIMON: But people can also be wrong, can't they?
SYDELL: Yes, they can.
SIMON: People have pointed out a lot of major news stories in 2014 began as a report on the web.
SYDELL: That's true. People can be very wrong. For example, Twitter had an issue on this where, all of a sudden, a story by The New York Times that had to do with Florida State University's football team started to disappear off Twitter. Now, it's not exactly clear what happened. But it may have been that there were huge fans of Florida State University who started to label this negative story about how police were going easy on investigating FSU football players, and they may have just tried to keep saying, oh, this is, you know, there's something wrong with this, and it began to disappear from Twitter. The Times actually called Twitter and said, what's going on? And Twitter fixed it. But you could see how a whole group of people could decide and have a little conspiracy.
SIMON: Get organized and spike a story that might be true.
SYDELL: Yeah, that's right. And that's one problem with only having computer algorithms. But that's how companies like Facebook function. They don't have human beings checking this out.
SIMON: But people in journalism will tell you it's journalism to determine the truth of a story. You don't do it with algorithms.
SYDELL: Well, you and I may think that's the case (Laughter).
SIMON: How quaint.
SYDELL: But out in the, you know, Silicon Valley, they think that computers can do a better job. You know, I mean, you know, eventually, Scott, you and I will be replaced by robots.
SIMON: It's funny you should mention that because you didn't recognize that I am a robot, did you?
SIMON: You're thinking, why would they spend all that money to make a robot that looks like that? Can't they do better? Yeah, this is just - I'm just a prototype. NPR's Laura Sydell. Thanks very much.
SYDELL: You're welcome. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.