Fake news on Facebook: what they could do to fix the dust cloud of misinformation

Fake news on Facebook: did this kitty climb Everest?
Fake news on Facebook: did this kitty climb Everest?

Fake news played a pretty significant role in influencing opinion on the recent US election, which, I note, has not gone unnoticed here in Canada. The Guardian had an interesting piece about the preponderance of lies that got circulated and re-circulated amongst both Clinton and Trump supporters.

Although it notes that the Trump camp was much more likely to produce face news stories, it does say Clinton supporters generated their own.

Troubling as this mendacity is, I also have been using the internet longer than Facebook has been around so I’ve gotten used to the idea that the internet can be used to spread misinformation and that some people like to read it.

What troubles me more is Facebook and Mark Zukerberg’s assertion that there’s nothing to be done about it. Because that’s the biggest lie of all.

Facebook is not a media company? Who’re you trying to kid?

First they claim that Facebook is not a media company. They’re not in the business of reporting the news, they say. Merely delivering eyeballs to advertisers while people report their own news. This claim is so ludicrous I’m not even sure I need to refute it.

It’s also so ludicrous they quickly move on to say that they’ve tried fact-checking and editing by human and it didn’t work. Their fact checkers were too biased themselves — or rather they didn’t share Zukerberg’s bias.

Can’t fix fake news on Facebook because algorithm

They say that the algorithm and the complaint mechanism work better. And then go back to the ‘Shrug because algorithm’ defense.

I don’t work for Facebook and haven’t studied it in great depth. But the one thing I do know is that nary a click nor an ‘engagement’ happens on Facebook without it being logged (and monetized). So surely they could come up with some numbers that measure the truthiness of a particular bit of shared news,

  • How many actual credible news sites (since they’re not a news site) have actually covered it
  • Some links to what other people — not just your friends — are saying about it
  • How many complaints have been filed about the story.
  • An index of how many people have shared this piece vs how many have shared the one(s) that debunk, or refute the piece.

This would be hard for Facebook, not because the technology isn’t easily available to it (heck it’s probably already written) but it would mean they’d have to be a bit more transparent and would have to accept more responsibility for what’s going on on their ad selling machine.

That would turn them into more of an actor in a civic entity where people care about the consequences of their actions and might lead to still more obligations.

To which I say ‘so be it’.