Fake news, elections, Facebook

Attention continues on how fake news is being used in political campaigns, how fake news helped win the US presidential election for Donald Trump, and how Facebook is a significant  part of spreading false news.

Gizmodo: Facebook’s Fight Against Fake News Was Undercut by Fear of Conservative Backlash

It’s no secret that Facebook has a fake news problem. Critics have accused the social network of allowing false and hoax news stories to run rampant, with some suggesting that Facebook contributed to Donald Trump’s election by letting hyper-partisan websites spread false and misleading information.

Mark Zuckerberg has addressed the issue twice since Election Day, most notably in a carefully worded statement that reads: “Of all the content on Facebook, more than 99 percent of what people see is authentic. Only a very small amount is fake news and hoaxes. The hoaxes that do exist are not limited to one partisan view, or even to politics.”

Still, it’s hard to visit Facebook without seeing phony headlines like “FBI Agent Suspected in Hillary Email Leaks Found Dead in Apparent Murder-Suicide” or “Pope Francis Shocks World, Endorses Donald Trump for President, Releases Statement” promoted by no-name news sites like the Denver Guardian and Ending The Fed.

Gizmodo has learned that the company is, in fact, concerned about the issue, and has been having a high-level internal debate since May about how the network approaches its role as the largest news distributor in the US.

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.”

on Facebook:

1. Facebook is a perfect example for why government regulation is important.

2. The incentives are all wrong here:
  a) Users are happy with fake news
  b) FB is happy making billions
  c) Advertisers are happy with clicks

3. The fake news literally makes everyone involved happy–from producers and distributors to advertisers and users.

4. In this way, it’s not unlike, say, heroin, which also makes everyone in the chain happy–until someone dies. And that’s why it’s illegal.

I don’t know how government regulation will help prevent fake news being fed via other countries.

Guardian: Click and elect: how fake news helped Donald Trump win a real election

We are fully ensconced in the post-truth world. The greatest editor this paper ever had, CP Scott, had it that “facts are sacred”. CP Scott, by the way, apparently used to have this thing where he brushed his teeth a certain way so the flecks of toothpaste would make a rude shape as they hit the bathroom mirror.

Zuckerberg has said: “Personally, I think the idea that fake news – of which it’s a small amount of content – influenced the election is a pretty crazy idea.”

The influence of verifiably false content on Facebook cannot be regarded as “small” when it garners millions of shares. And yes, it runs deep. The less truthful a piece is, the more it is shared.

In Zuckerberg’s follow-up statement, he seems to have shot himself in the foot, by saying it was “extremely unlikely” fake news on Facebook had an impact on the election, but also boasting that Facebook was responsible for 2 million people registering to vote. So which is it, Zuck? Does Facebook have influence or not?

Where do these stories originate? Well, some are created by teenagers in Macedonia. Wait, that one isn’t a joke – non-partisan kids looking for cash just catering to demand. Many more come from people we now term the “alt-right”, who cook up stories on boards such as 8chan, 4chan and social media, and are then co-opted either by genuine right-leaning sites or shill sites, and are then shared again on social media by accounts with Pepe the Frog or eggs as their avatars. It’s a bit like the water cycle, but if the water cycle were diarrhoea.

‘Alt-right’ is a sanitising term. Perhaps Alt[-wrong or Alt-deliberately-wrong would be more appropriate.

Some of these stories are frankly ridiculous (myth busted: Hillary Clinton is not the leader of an underground paedophile ring), and cater to an increasing number of conspiracy theorists. But others are relatively benign if wildly inaccurate. They have still begun on message boards created by the same people who – and I will not sugarcoat this – refer to people who are not white as “shit-skins”.

A better term for many of the alt-right, therefore, might be “far-right”. For “alt-right” is an ambiguous term and encompasses many forms. Sure, they are internet-savvy millennials who reject mainstream conservatives and despise Paul Ryan. But they’re also far-right lurkers who probably bid on Nazi memorabilia and have moved from white supremacist sites such as Stormfront. Then there’s the Russian faction; online commenters bought in bulk. And on social media, there are the bots and sockpuppet accounts to inflict automated insult to injury.

But let’s be clear: the internet alt-right is more successful as an In Real Life political force than the online left.

And that success is why it will be hard to combat.

Just like old media seem to put clickbait ahead of accuracy, and Facebook is driven by revenue, political activists are driven by a desire to win, and if they win with fake news they will keep peddling fake news.

And they will get better at disguising it as legitimate news, and they will get better at spreading it before it can get busted as fake.

The Internet was a great new hope for spreading information and communication to the masses, but it is becoming a means of duping the masses on an unprecedented scale.

This will evolve and change – for better and for worse.