Tens of millions of Americans get their news from Facebook and an increasing amount of that news is fake.
In May, Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg met with right-wing media personalities over concerns that “many conservatives don’t trust that [Facebook] surfaces content without a political bias.” Following the meeting, Zuckerberg noted how important conservative engagement was to Facebook by stating, “Donald Trump has more fans on Facebook than any other presidential candidate. And Fox News drives more interactions in its Facebook page than any other news outlet in the world. It’s not even close.”
Following the outcry by conservatives of political bias, Facebook adopted revised guidelines on its Trending Topics, promised its reviewers would undergo new training “that emphasized content decisions may not be made on the basis of politics or ideology,” and fired the 18 human editors it used to write descriptions of trending topics and ensure their accuracy.
Facebook's response to the cries of “political bias” backfired on the company after just 72 hours when fake stories began trending, including a story about Fox News host (and Trump agitator) Megyn Kelly being fired from the network.
The response from Facebook over conservatives’ concerns of “political bias” stand in contrast to the company’s response to reports that fake stories and hoaxes have taken over the News Feed of the platform, which according to the Pew Research Center, 61 percent of web-using Millennials and 39 percent of Baby Boomers use to get their political news.
A recent study by Buzzfeed found “hyperpartisan political Facebook pages and websites are consistently feeding their millions of followers false and misleading information,” with one of the most egregious examples being a group of pro-Trump websites originating in Macedonia which were “playing a significant role in propagating” false and misleading pro-Trump articles. One of the Macedonians contacted for the story, a 17-year-old, said, “I started the site for a easy way to make money.”
Zuckerberg initially downplayed the widespread problem of fake news on Facebook and its effect on the election, saying “it’s a very small amount of the content,” and calling it a “crazy idea” that the hoaxes influenced the election. Zuckerberg has since acknowledged that his platform has a problem with false stories, but rather than meeting with journalists to discuss solutions as he did with conservatives in May, Zuckerberg offered up the excuse that “identifying the truth is complicated,” and once again expressed concern that Facebook “find ways for our community to tell us what content is most meaningful.” Gizmodo reported that Facebook executives recently conducted a review of the News Feed process that would have eliminated fake and hoax stories, but that the plan was set aside due to concern that removing false stories would upset conservatives:
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.”
Recently Buzzfeed reported that despite fear of losing their jobs for and being warned about speaking to the press, “dozens” of Facebook employees have formed “an unofficial task force” to address the company’s role in spreading misinformation.
Join Media Matters in asking Mark Zuckerberg and Facebook to fix their fake news problem by signing our petition.