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The Serious Problem With Satire on Facebook

Late last month, while the debate around President Obama’s decision to grant some amnesty to undocumented immigrants was happening, a story with the headline “Sarah Palin: Send Immigrants ‘Back Across Ocean’ to Mexico” appeared in many people’s Facebook News Feeds.

The story was, of course, untrue. But scores of commenters mocked Ms. Palin’s supposed geographical ignorance, seemingly unaware that it came from the satirical website the Daily Currant.

And that reaction highlights a big problem for Facebook, which has a growing ambition to become a centralized source for news and a native platform for publishers. Those goals are starting to collide with the company’s tenets as a tech-driven social network.

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An earlier version of this article reported that Facebook's Trending Topics were handpicked by Facebook's team in New York. Stories in the section are actually driven by algorithms, although Facebook's team oversees the process.

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Read comments from top tech and industry leaders
Joe Lonsdale
Joe Lonsdale
Founding Partner, Eight
Chamath Palihapitiya
Chamath Palihapitiya
Founder & Managing Partner, SocialCapital
Tina Sharkey
Tina Sharkey
CEO, Brandless
Jonah Peretti
Jonah Peretti
CEO, Buzzfeed
Adam D'Angelo
Adam D'Angelo
CEO, Quora
Brit Morin
Brit Morin
Founder & CEO, Brit + CO
Dustin Moskovitz
Dustin Moskovitz
Co-Founder, Asana
Christina Miller
Christina Miller
President & General Manager, Turner
Max Levchin
Max Levchin
CEO, Affirm
Adam Mosseri
Adam Mosseri
Director of Product, Facebook
Alex Mather
Alex Mather
The Athletic
Martha Josephson
Martha Josephson
Partner, Egon Zehnder
James Murdoch
James Murdoch
Co-Chief Operating Officer, 21st Century Fox
Andrew Kortina
Andrew Kortina
Founder, Venmo
Ben Chestnut
Ben Chestnut
Co-Founder & CEO, Mailchimp
Ruchi Sanghvi
Ruchi Sanghvi
VP Operations, Dropbox
Among the possibilities would be altering its algorithm to highlight sites that are trusted sources and down-ranking ones that are satirical or misleading. This mentality runs counter to the current approach to News Feed, however, which favors posts from friends that show high user engagement.