Facebook’s Fight Against Fake News Was Undercut by Fear of Conservative Backlash
I don’t use Facebook as a news source (except for family news) but apparently some do, and Facebook takes it as a responsibility to allow fake-news sites to use Facebook to spread their hoax-news. (That is judging based on Facebook’s actions, not its words.)
Michael Nunez reports at Gizmodo:
It’s no secret that Facebook has a fake news problem. Critics have accused the social network of allowing false and hoax news stories to run rampant, with some suggesting that Facebook contributed to Donald Trump’s election by letting hyper-partisan websites spread false and misleading information. Mark Zuckerberg has addressed the issue twice since Election Day, most notably in a carefully worded statement that reads: “Of all the content on Facebook, more than 99 percent of what people see is authentic. Only a very small amount is fake news and hoaxes. The hoaxes that do exist are not limited to one partisan view, or even to politics.”
Still, it’s hard to visit Facebook without seeing phony headlines like “FBI Agent Suspected in Hillary Email Leaks Found Dead in Apparent Murder-Suicide” or “Pope Francis Shocks World, Endorses Donald Trump for President, Releases Statement” promoted by no-name news sites like the Denver Guardian and Ending The Fed.
Gizmodo has learned that the company is, in fact, concerned about the issue, and has been having a high-level internal debate since May about how the network approaches its role as the largest news distributor in the US. The debate includes questions over whether the social network has a duty to prevent misinformation from spreading to the 44 percent of Americans who get their news from the social network.
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.
“They absolutely have the tools to shut down fake news,” said the source, who asked to remain anonymous citing fear of retribution from the company. The source added, “there was a lot of fear about upsetting conservatives after Trending Topics,” and that “a lot of product decisions got caught up in that.”
In an emailed statement, Facebook did not answer Gizmodo’s direct questions about whether the company built a News Feed update that was capable of identifying fake or hoax news stories, nor whether such an update would disproportionately impact right-wing or conservative-leaning sites. Instead, Facebook said it “did not build and withhold any News Feed changes based on their potential impact on any one political party.” The full statement:
We did not build and withhold any News Feed changes based on their potential impact on any one political party. We always work to make News Feed more meaningful and informative, and that includes examining the quality and accuracy of items shared, such as clickbait, spam and hoaxes. Mark himself said, “I want to do everything I can to make sure our teams uphold the integrity of our products.” This includes continuously reviewing updates to make sure we are not exhibiting unconscious bias.
A New York Times report published Saturday cited conversations with current Facebook employees and stated that “The Trending Topics episode paralyzed Facebook’s willingness to make any serious changes to its products that might compromise the perception of its objectivity.” Our sources echoed the same sentiment, with one saying Facebook had an “internal culture of fear” following the Trending Topics episode.
The sources are referring to a controversy that started in May, when Gizmodo published a story in which former Facebook workers revealed that the trending news team was run by human “curators” and guided by their editorial judgments, rather than populated by an algorithm, as the company had earlier claimed. One former curator said that they routinely observed colleagues suppressing stories on conservative topics. Facebook denied the allegations, then later fired its entire trending news team. The layoffs were followed by several high-profile blunders, in which the company allowed fake news stories (or hoaxes) to trend on the website. One such story said that Fox News fired Megyn Kelly for being “a closet liberal who actually wants Hillary to win.”
After Gizmodo’s stories were published, Facebook vehemently fought . . .
Continue reading. There’s more.
Bottom line: Don’t use Facebook as a news site since they allow hoaxes to parade as news. Go to an actual news site, one that takes its reponsibilities seriously and does fact-checking.