Seemingly ever since Donald Trump won the United States’ Presidency last November, the term ‘fake news’ has been on the tongue of almost everyone engaged in social media.
The difficulty with sites such as Facebook has always been that it is aggregate infrastructure based off of views and shares. The information does not need to be accurate. The information simply needs to be shared in order to be seen and featured throughout the site. This creates an environment whereby fake news is encouraged in the name of garnering views, shares, and attention. On sites such as Facebook, this has been a major problem.
Speaking on October 12Th, Facebook Chief Operating Officer (COO) Sheryl Sandberg said that Facebook is a social media network where all users are allowed to freely express themselves and the platform would probably change significantly if posts were checked.
Responding specifically to the question of whether Facebook should be allowed to run fake news ads, Sandberg said that in short, when you deny free speech to one person, you deny it for all.
Though this position can be admired by some as a commitment to neutrality, it also can be interpreted as an acknowledgment that Facebook is a social media platform by which misinformation can be easily spread. And, apparently, Facebook executives don’t seem to have a problem with according to Sandberg’s response.
Traditional news distribution systems benefit from editorial oversight and curation. Certain opinions are not going to get by these systems. When it comes to Facebook Ads, the truth seems to be as long as you’re ready to pay for them, you can actively advertise fake news without worry.
Facebook has already committed to hiring 1,000 more human moderators to protect election integrity but what this initiative will end up accomplishing is difficult to measure at this point in time and impossible to predict.
If fake news is permissible under free speech ideology, is ‘fake news’ something that can be effectively solved through a site such as Facebook – this is a hard question to answer. Facebook is already communicating with government officials regarding what are believed to be Russian-bought ads designed to sway American voters and spread misinformation in the lead-up to last year’s election.
The truth about why there is fake news on Facebook is that as long as there are enough people willing to believe something, there’s the potential for it to rise to the top of the newsfeed. Whether that piece of content is authentic or truthful does not matter. The Facebook newsfeed is one that is built on engagement and nothing else. False information that pokes and prods at biases, political leanings, and social opinions are easy magnets for clicks, likes, and shares. This incentivizes fake news publishers from all sides of the socio-political spectrum to publish fake news.
No doubt a debate that will continue to be had for months and potentially years, Facebook continues to derive profits from selling ads to fake news publishers. When it comes to the bottom line of its business model, this is not a point that can be denied. This is also a piece of information that easily explains what fake news means to Facebook and why it intends to do little to stop the spreading of misinformation.