Fake News vs. Facebook


According to Addicting Info, Pope Francis called “Fox News Type [sic]” journalism “terrorism”. Per Ending the Fed, Pope Francis fully endorsed Donald Trump. Thousands of people shared these stories on Facebook, though unbeknownst to most of them, both are completely false. Addicting Info, a left-wing “news” source, and Ending the Fed, a right-wing outlet, both twisted quotes and flat out lied, creating stories their respective audiences wanted to hear.

Hyper-partisan “news” outlets have been growing in number over recent years, and many proved their influence during the recent election. Stories came out about Hillary Clinton’s secret body double and Trump’s fake quote that US women in the military should expect to be raped. Hyper-partisan outlets eschewed the practice of fact-based journalism in favor of playing to people’s partisan biases. Such misleading information often does not have any basis in fact, but it easily fools readers that want it to be true.

While partisan news outlets have contorted and manufactured news for years, the ease of distribution via Facebook and Google have made disseminating such fake news significantly easier. Facebook’s software algorithms work to instantaneously spread stories that receive an unusually high number of clicks, enabling articles to go viral in a relatively short time. Facebook’s Trending Topics section also relies on a similar algorithm with the same effect. While these algorithms both encourage a faster dissemination of news, they historically have excluded a fact-checking element, enabling false news to spread quickly without the traditional filters of journalism.

Fake news originates from both sides of the aisle, but a Buzzfeed study showed that hyper-conservative news outlets are almost twice as likely as hyper-liberal outlets to spread false or misleading news on Facebook. Conservative sources Eagle Rising, Right Wing News, and Freedom Daily posted false or misleading news 38 percent of the time during the study, while liberal sources The Other 98%, Addicting Info, and Occupy Democrats posted false or misleading news 20 percent of the time.  For comparison, mainstream media outlets posted false or misleading news a mere 0.7 percent of the time. Facebook’s algorithms suggest content to users similar to content they have clicked on in the past, so individuals’ Facebook News Feeds become echo chambers of political ideology. Such echo chambers can increase partisanship by leading users to believe no opposing viewpoints to the news they are reading exist.

Some individuals even make their living by creating fake news. Paul Horner, a 38-year-old self-described news satirist, for example, has fabricated stories about proposed bans on the national anthem and the infiltration of Trump rallies by paid protesters.. Horner believes fake news is one of the reasons Trump won the election, and many social media outlets agree.

Since the election, many have called on leaders at Facebook, Google, and other online platforms to monitor the news that is posted and shared on their sites. Mark Zuckerberg initially resisted such action, as Facebook has traditionally been purely data driven and focused on enhancing user experience rather than excluding any groups from participation. After increased pressure, however, he has outlined several ways in which Facebook will begin to monitor news sources on the social media platform. Tactics to counter fake news will include algorithms for the stronger detection of fake news, third-party fact-checkers verifying the news that is shared on Facebook, warnings on articles that have been flagged as false by fact-checkers, and an easily accessible system for regular users to report false articles. Facebook and Google also plan to end the flow of advertising revenue to fake news sites by excluding them from their ad placement algorithms. This policy aims to disrupt the financial stability of fake news outlets and hopefully drive them out of business.

It remains unclear exactly how Facebook will execute the changes outlined by Zuckerberg. Facebook prides itself on the freedom of its user-sourced content, and restrictions on such content run perpendicular to its fundamental mission. Fake news, however, seems to have been a force in driving Donald Trump to victory, and Facebook hopes to limit the power of intentionally misleading influences in the future. While free speech must be protected, so too should people be protected from lies and fake news that only hinder the electorate from being correctly informed. Facebook must find the proper balance between these opposing forces to create the best user experience.

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