Pixel Envy

Written by Nick Heer.

Mark Zuckerberg Is in Denial

Craig Silverman of Buzzfeed, reporting on the rise in popularity of viral fake news stories in the final months of the U.S. election:

Up until those last three months of the campaign, the top election content from major outlets had easily outpaced that of fake election news on Facebook. Then, as the election drew closer, engagement for fake content on Facebook skyrocketed and surpassed that of the content from major news outlets.

There are reportedly employees at Facebook working on their own to try to reduce the spread of fake news, but it sounds like they’re receiving little support at the senior and executive levels of the company. Michael Nunez, Gizmodo:

According to two sources with direct knowledge of the company’s decision-making, Facebook executives conducted a wide-ranging review of products and policies earlier this year, with the goal of eliminating any appearance of political bias. One source said high-ranking officials were briefed on a planned News Feed update that would have identified fake or hoax news stories, but disproportionately impacted right-wing news sites by downgrading or removing that content from people’s feeds. According to the source, the update was shelved and never released to the public. It’s unclear if the update had other deficiencies that caused it to be scrubbed.

Zeynep Tufekci, in an op-ed for the New York Times:

Only Facebook has the data that can exactly reveal how fake news, hoaxes and misinformation spread, how much there is of it, who creates and who reads it, and how much influence it may have. Unfortunately, Facebook exercises complete control over access to this data by independent researchers. It’s as if tobacco companies controlled access to all medical and hospital records.

These are not easy problems to solve, but there is a lot Facebook could do. When the company decided it wanted to reduce spam, it established a policy that limited its spread. If Facebook had the same kind of zeal about fake news, it could minimize its spread, too.

I’m not sure how anyone at Facebook can continue to claim that the stories surfaced through users’ news feed and the global trending topics list could not have had an impact on the election.