Sunday, December 4, 2016

Facebook and the fake news problem

Facebook took a lot of flak for distributing false viral stories during the 2016 U.S. presidential election, many of which were attacks on Democratic frontrunner and eventual loser Hillary Clinton.
It’s a stretch to say that fake news on Facebook helped elect Donald Trump, but the problem clearly damaged Facebook’s reputation.
President Barack Obama said the fake news circulating on Facebook has created “a dust cloud of nonsense.”
Facebook is under no legal obligation to fix its problem with fake news being distributed on its social network. But it makes good business sense to do something about it.
More than 40% of U.S. adults turn to Facebook for news.
In August, Facebook fired the editors behind Trending News amid concerns that they were blocking conservative news. Two days later, a fake story about Fox News firing Megyn Kelly was featured in its Trending News section.
In the weeks that followed, Facebook spotlighted many fake news stories in its Trending News section, the Washington Post reported.
Facebook replaced its human editors with a computer algorithm that surfaces trending stories based on shares and likes.
In the last three months of the campaign, the top-performing fake election news stories on Facebook generated more engagement than the top stories from major news outlets such as the New York Times, Washington Post, NBC News and others, BuzzFeed News reported.
(Here’s a collection of fake news from the presidential race that went viral on Facebook, according to Business Insider.)
Some media watchdogs have put together lists of fake, false or regularly misleading websites.
A list by Melissa Zimdars, a media professor at Merrimack College in Massachusetts, also included parody sites like the Onion, because some people believe their satirical stories are true. (See Literally Unbelievable.) The Zimdars list was criticized for taking an overly broad interpretation of fake news to include “False, Misleading, Clickbait-y, and/or Satirical ‘News’ Sources.”
Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg has vowed to make changes to prevent misinformation from being distributed on Facebook. Those changes include stronger detection and easy reporting of fake news and disrupting the economics of fake news.
Media critic Jeff Jarvis and tech entrepreneur John Borthwick offered their own suggestions in a blog post.
Veteran tech reporter Walt Mossberg also offered some suggestions in a blog post.
Zuckerberg is correct when he says the problem of fake news is “complex, both technically and philosophically.”
Efforts to crack down on fake news websites, which exist to wreak havoc and generate ad revenue, should not harm parody sites or sites with opinions that others disagree with.

Photo from parody site Clickhole.

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