Reconsider Facebook’s poor attempt to combat fake news
Facebook will begin implementing user surveys to determine the validity of news sources in the era of “fake news,” according to a . Founder Mark Zuckerberg chose this approach because allowing staff to decide what users see is “not something we're comfortable with,” according to the same article. While this is an admirable approach to tackling the issue of false information, it may not be the best method for doing so.
One issue with this plan is the partisan divide that will inevitably ensue. showed that individuals who believe in conservative ideals are more likely to trust news sources like Breitbart or CNSNews, while liberal individuals trust sources like Democracy Now! and The Nation. This data came from a 2015 study conducted by researchers from Facebook and the University of Michigan, Ann Arbor. The study — titled “” — revealed that individuals shared less cross-cutting news when it came from a source aligning with the opposite ideology. Despite their partisan bias, both Fox News and the Washington Post are news sources that seek to inform the public. If Facebook’s new plan is implemented, it is likely that users will deem sources from the opposing party as disreputable. By declaring news articles from the opposite end of the political spectrum “fake news,” Facebook users are further entrenching themselves in their own political bubbles. If one automatically discredits an article because it came from a left-wing news source, they are robbing themselves of the opportunity to actually engage with current events.
Similar to this, the definition of “fake news” is subjective. While President Donald Trump’s recent Fake News Awards may be a short list of fallacies published by major news outlets, occasional errors do not diminish the well-established reputations of the New York Times or Time magazine. In fact, according to , most of the mistakes that Trump listed were acknowledged and corrected, with some even resulting in disciplinary action — like CNN forcing three journalists to resign after falsely accusing Anthony Scaramucci of meeting with a Russian, according to . Trump is not concerned with actual inaccuracies in the media; rather, it is his image that he is concerned with. Trump has even stated himself, in , that he believes that any negative news is “fake news.” As sad as it is that our president behaves like a toddler, it is even worse that some Americans behave in a similar manner and reject any news that displeases them.
While Trump claims that news stories he doesn’t like are fake, there are some who genuinely do not know the truth from fiction. According to , technology analyst Larry Magid stated, “Simply because something is well liked by a percentage of the public, doesn’t mean it’s reliable.” According to , Trump condemned former President Barack Obama for wanting to admit 250,000 Syrian refugees to the United States. However, this figure did not come from any official reports, but rather from Real News Right Now — a satirical website. These unsuspecting individuals who have been reading and promoting fake news as actual journalism are likely to continue to do so. Given the opportunity to influence what others see, these people will not fix the underlying problem. It is up to individuals to educate themselves on current events and the trustworthiness of sources, if they so choose. Far too many people read only a shocking headline and neglect to actually read the article or at least look at the source. According to conducted by researchers from Columbia University and the French National Institute for Agricultural Research, only 59 percent of links shared on Twitter have actually been opened. Websites should make it clear that they are satirical or have a disclaimer upon entrance to the site to prevent the spread of misinformation.
In a similar move, , Twitter announced plans to contact nearly 678,000 users who may have interacted with fake accounts created by Russian propaganda group Internet Research Agency. Twitter has suspended the fake accounts and another 1,000 that may have been involved with the IRA. Twitter wants to ensure that there are no more repeats of the Russian-influenced 2016 presidential election. As of December 2017, the social media platform began cracking down to identify suspicious accounts through new techniques. Since then, approximately 6 million suspicious accounts have been detected. While Facebook cannot replicate this tactic and ban every fake pro-Trump troll account, they could instead monitor those that continuously post articles with provocative headlines from untrustworthy sources.
Other users should not have the ability to dictate what everyone else sees; it is up to the individual to determine whether the news they are reading is actually real and worth conversation.