November 18th, 2016
Headlines like “FBI Agent suspected in Hillary Email leaks found dead in apparent murder-suicide.” or “Pope Francis shocks the world, endorses Donald Trump for President, releases statement” promoted by no-name news media platforms like the Denver Guardian and Ending the Fed have put pressure on Facebook to tackle the problem of fake news and information.
There are a lot of hoax news articles on Facebook, and the critics have accused the social network of allowing false and fake news stories to run rampant. The critics have also accused that Facebook contributed to Donald trump’s election win by allowing the party to spread false and misleading information.
Mark Zuckerberg has refuted the claims and has said that of all the content on Facebook, more than 99 percent of what people see is authentic. Only a very small amount of the information is fake. These hoaxes are not limited to one party, view or even to politics.
It started in May when a blog named Gizmodo published a story in which a former Facebook employee revealed that the trending news team on facebook was run by human “curators” and was guided by their editorial judgements, rather than being populated by an algorithm, as the company had earlier claimed. Every time we open facebook, the most influential, controversial and misunderstood algorithms spring into action. They scan and collect everything posted in the past week by each of our friends, everyone we follow, each group we belong to and every Facebook page we’ve liked. The allegations by the former employee were denied by Facebook, but they later fired the 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. Mark Zuckerberg also invited several high-profile conservatives to a meeting at Facebook’s campus.
Effect of Fake News
Making up news stories to fool or entertain the public is not a new trend. There are hundreds of fake news websites out there, many of which deliberately imitate credible newspapers in format and design, and trend misinformation. The hoax published by such websites gets social media attention and is then picked up by other sites. A chain reaction takes place and hoax are published and proliferated everywhere. This ultimately leads to the inability to verify the authenticity of the published reports. The potential to cause damage becomes more powerful over time. It reinforces people’s beliefs and falsely confirms their prejudices.
Allegations of Fake News impacting the results of 2016 US Election
From Facebook to any other social media community, every single platform has played a large role in gathering young voters for 2016 election. Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump both used social media to their advantages. But false information attracted more attention of the people. The influence of false content on Facebook cannot be regarded as a small or one-time event when it garners million of shares. But how do these false contents originate? Many come from people who make up stories on websites such as 8chan, 4chan and other such sites. These are then co-opted either by genuine right-learning sites or shill sites and are then shared again on social media. Some of the stories are utterly ridiculous and have catered to an increasing number of conspiracy theories.
Both Google and Facebook have responded to these fake news and have announced that measures will be taken to counter the bogus clickbait stories. Google said it will restrict sites that publish fake news from using its online advertising services. And Facebook updated its Audience Network Policy to make it clear that it will not display ads on websites or mobile apps that contain fake news. It is also reported that Google employed 3 UK companies to help classify and weed out fake news platforms.
It remains to be seen how effective the algorithms and new measures will be in combating the menace of fake news websites.