In 1770, a Hungarian inventor named Wolfgang von Kempelen presented a large box to the Empress of Austria. On top of the box was a chess board, and behind it was a mannequin that appeared to be an Arabic-looking man. It was called “The Turk,” and von Kempelen said it was a miraculous automaton that could beat anyone at chess. In other words: It was a chess-playing robot. Before it burned 84 years later, it handily check-mated Napoleon and Benjamin Franklin.
It check-mated them because there was a chess master hiding inside of it. The Turk was a hoax, a sham. It claimed to mechanically simulate a human process, but it really just concealed a human being doing the work.
Now, Amazon has a service called Mechanical Turk that lets users cheaply rent crowdsourced human labor. But this week The Turk has me thinking of another tech firm: Facebook.
On Tuesday, Facebook announced a new feature for its News Feed. Stories that Facebook believes to be untrue will be marked with a warning: Many people on Facebook have reported that this story contains false information.
True to its text, all the information that will trigger this warning comes from users. If you see a story you think is false on your friend’s wall, you can flag it as a bad post and then tell Facebook it’s a hoax. (After the menu below, Facebook will ask you if you want to privately message the poster telling them about the untrue information.)
If enough people do this, a small warning will appear above the post. Eventually, an article or a publisher that many people have reported as hoax-y will show up in people’s News Feeds less frequently. Facebook also looks for other signifiers of hoax-yness—such as many users posting a certain story and then deleting it.