There seem to be centralised approaches to combating fake news, such as Youtube suppressing fake news about coronavirus. Are there any decentralised approaches though? When most people share a news article, they don't first check it with one of the fact checking agencies. Are there some socially accepted approaches to factchecking?

Motivation: Maybe I just suck at communicating but responding to posts that seem to be factually wrong is not always appreciated. In a science lab people might talk relatively impartially about facts but in many other parts of life emotions rule and whether statements are true or not is irrelevant. On the other hand relying just on centralised fact-checkers and main-stream news being diligent seems like an insufficient approach, and a fragile one. Vendors of fake news can use micro-targeting to inject divisive messages into small niches. How can society be resilient to this? I would have thought that objective reality is almost by definition a good place to start building common ground, but then I am a scientist.

Note: I realise that fake news is not just about politics but lot of it is, so I guess you folks are probably best placed to answer.

Youtube suppressing conspiracy theories: https://www.theguardian.com/world/2020/apr/05/youtube-to-suppress-content-spreading-coronavirus-5g-conspiracy-theory

Micro-targeting: The best summary I read was by a masters student; I can ask her whether she would be happy to publish it, if there is interest.

  • Related question about fact checking: politics.stackexchange.com/questions/27290/…
    – Max Murphy
    Commented May 5, 2020 at 10:23
  • Yup. My agenda is fixing the objective reality part of debate. There is an objective reality that is not just opinion, in my opinion and in the opinion of the majority of the scientific community. Most normal people also have an instinctive feeling for truth - e.g. is a door open or closed - they will look. It's not a complicated philosophy. It might not be all that precise. But saying "the door is actually open, it's just your political bias that makes you think it's closed" doesn't fly, in any clear cut case.
    – Max Murphy
    Commented May 6, 2020 at 10:24
  • Once the objective reality part of debate is fixed, one can actually focus on the values and emotions in a more fruitful way. Some people will want to acknowledge emotions and values first, then look at the facts, but the facts should not be influenced by emotions otherwise they are not facts. Call me a scientist/sheldon whatever but it helps to have a common understanding and awareness of the situation one is in if one is going to have a constructive discussion, not one on the shifting sands of "facts" that don't seem to be true according to any reasonable verification.
    – Max Murphy
    Commented May 6, 2020 at 10:28

2 Answers 2


If by decentralized approaches you mean mostly systems that can do some sort of analysis of articles and then target users who might want to read article evaluated as fake news, then yes there are some approaches.

You mentioned YouTube algorithms, Facebook have had a long lasting effort under political pressure to monitor fake news. They have both algorithms and teams of analysts who are marking articles that can be viewed as a fake news.

Once user wants to visit such an article, there is a notification that source of that article may be viewed as a fake news. It's also managed for communities and Facebook groups, which are very often a source of propagating fake news. There is also an analysis of adds and propagation targeting, based on whether the sources can be classified as fake.

Several governments are also trying to combat fake news by having state units like police, national health and others to speak against fake news articles that are circulating on social networks, where they mark such articles as fake on their official Facebook pages.

There are several others ideas like using popular YouTubers in certain countries to disproof and mark popular fake news in circulation.

Another method of fighting fake news is to specifically educate students in the education system so they can better analyse and think about articles they read and have judgment of their trustworthiness.

For more you can read for example this report with propositions on fighting fake news from the Yale University resource link

Fighting Fake News Workshop Report - file

Interesting article about measures taken by Taiwan from TechCrunch Why the world must pay attention to the fight against disinformation and fake news in Taiwan

A coronavirus fake news 'infodemic' is spreading online faster than tech companies' ability to quash it

Significant part of fighting against fake news is within the digital technological domain through which fake news mostly spread, a lots of startups are focusing on this particular area, you can find an interesting list of European startups with solutions to fight fake news here 10 European startups fighting fake news and disinformation

  • Interesting. Thank you for the links. My thought was rather about ways of making fact-checking popular in every day life, so that verification becomes part of normal accepted social behaviour but it could be that a fact-checking tool or website could be used to check and tag posts accordingly. It will take me a while to read through all the resources you have posted.
    – Max Murphy
    Commented May 5, 2020 at 10:40
  • 1
    No problem. Making fact-checking popular may be done through mentioned education or well-focused publicity from famous YouTubers and influencers which are listened to by young people. Several governments are trying this approach.
    – Ver
    Commented May 5, 2020 at 10:43
  • I've downvoted the answer because having governments organize responses to things are generally understood to be the most highly centralized approaches to problem solving, definitionally.
    – Joe
    Commented May 11, 2020 at 22:55
  • @Joe I understand, although I mentioned using for example influencers, which may be seen as a decentralised element.
    – Ver
    Commented May 13, 2020 at 13:39

Having legally guaranteed freedom of speech is the most decentralized approach to combatting fake news that is possible.

There has been fake news ever since there has been news. The way that people have dealt with that is to have more providers of news instead of fewer. Having a free press that can publish whatever it wants means that, if lots of people agree that fake news is a problem, they can all figure out their own approaches to countering it.

"Fact checking" is one such decentralized approach. "Fact checking", the way we talk about it now (as opposed to just, typical journalism) is largely the product of people deciding a certain type of reporting needed to be done, and starting up companies or non-profits to provide that sort of thing.

You ask:

On the other hand relying just on centralised fact-checkers and main-stream news being diligent seems like an insufficient approach, and a fragile one. Vendors of fake news can use micro-targeting to inject divisive messages into small niches. How can society be resilient to this?

Who says that vendors of fake news are the only people who can use microtargeting? Vendors of real news can use microtargeting too. Maybe the current providers of main-stream news are totally insufficient to do this. If you are right, then that is wonderful news, because it means that there are unexplored opportunities for entrepreneurship to solve this societal problem and potentially make yourself rich in the process.

The "centralized" approaches you mention in your question are actually part of a decentralized process for dealing with fake news.

Nobody told YouTube that they had to suppress fake news. They decided that they ought to do it because they care (for self-interested reasons as well as noble ones) about fighting fake news. YouTube is one of many other social media platforms that exist in the world; it's decisions are only central within YouTube. It was also a decentralized process that created YouTube in the first place.

  • 3
    Sorry, but casual observation of reality shows that this is not how it works in practice. In reality, websites like Facebook, Twitter or Reddit encourage users to build filter bubbles of like-minded people where misinformation that agrees with the community consensus spreads completely unopposed. Whether this is by accident or by design is debatable, but there is not much effort by the platform owners to break up these filter bubbles and expose these users to more balanced views. There is also not much incentive for reputable news organizations to microtarget people who don't agree with them.
    – Philipp
    Commented May 12, 2020 at 7:17
  • @Philipp That would be a much more compelling argument if the average Facebook, Twitter, or Reddit user was representative of average people in society. The users of these platforms (esp. Twitter) are vastly more partisan than average people in society. These "bubbles" exist, but by their nature are very small and insignificant. The question is, after all, "how can society stand up to this" not "how can the 20% slice of America that is predominantly young and votes Democratic purge opinions it doesn't like on a website nobody else reads."
    – Joe
    Commented May 12, 2020 at 10:56
  • "That would be a much more compelling argument if the average Facebook, Twitter, or Reddit user was representative of average people in society." - Pew research says that 7 in 10 Americans are Facebook users. That makes facebook users pretty representative for the US. pewresearch.org/internet/fact-sheet/social-media In Europe I have a few friends who refuse to use facebook on ideological grounds but the vast majority, including elderly relatives, use facebook. This suggests that European numbers are probably not too dissimilar. I think that your premise is false.
    – Max Murphy
    Commented May 23, 2020 at 22:29

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