If you woke up on the morning of November 9th, wondering how the most powerful nation on earth ended up with Donald Trump as its president-elect, trust me, you weren't alone. The blame has been apportioned to a whole host of different entities and people, from Hillary Clinton herself to the Russian government and the FBI.
One week post election, as we receive the news that "post-truth" is actually the Oxford English Dictionary word of 2016, it seems that a certain social media giant must also bear some of the weight and responsibility of a Trump presidency.
Facebook is feeling the heat.
Facebook CEO, Mark Zuckerberg, offered a defense against accusations that the proliferation of "fake news" on the platform, played mightily to Mr.Trump's favor.
Of all the content on Facebook, more than 99% 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. Overall, this makes it extremely unlikely hoaxes changed the outcome of this election in one direction or the other.Mark Zuckerberg
What Zuckerberg forgets to note is that people of all ages are increasingly citing social media as among their "most helpful" source of news.
Whether Facebook cares to admit it or not, it has played a significant role in making fringe conspiracy theory sites more mainstream.
via CBS news
While Zuckerberg may be right in saying that the overwhelming majority of news on Facebook is authentic, what he also fails to point out is how ~"viral" the nature of false news really is. After all, passionate and outlandish fiction is certainly more titillating than well-researched data-driven journalism.
In their research into Facebook timeline echo chambers, Buzzfeed found that three top right wing "news" pages on Facebook lied or misrepresented facts 38% of the time. This, coupled with the fact the Facebook prioritizes viewpoints and news sources that a user has already expressed an affinity for, and you have an increasingly uninformed electorate drinking the Kool-Aid of highly inaccurate reporting and false equivalence.
So, what should Facebook do to hamper the influence of fake news?
First of all, Facebook can acknowledge its influence and its mistakes. It doesn't help anyone to act like this all happened without social media and Facebook.
Facebook is now in the awkward position of having to explain why they think they drive purchase decisions but not voting decisions— Casey Newton (@CaseyNewton) November 11, 2016
On the phone with Facebook PR and they literally ask me "what is truth"— Nellie Bowles (@NellieBowles) November 15, 2016
Facebook can also begin to break down the echo chambers that drive the hysterical nature of objective falsehood. Thanks to Twitter and Facebook, we all live in a bubble of information that shields us from criticism of our moral and political leanings. Facebook does not have to enable this. If Facebook can bump the influence of news organizations known to deliver mostly non-partisan, quality political reporting, there is hope that a sliver of truth can pierce through the muck.
Facebook can and should make changes to its algorithm so that news flagged as a hoax or highly inaccurate is shown less in people's news feeds. Viral hoaxes and polarizing imagery can suppress voter turn-out, split votes in ways that impact elections, and inspire people to vote against their own interests.
Facebook is not a news organization, but it's not 4chan either. It has a duty to rein this in. People make good decisions when they have facts and democracy thrives when an electorate is informed, not emboldened by misinformation and hate speech.
Beyond Facebook, we owe it to ourselves to seek truth and balance.
Now that we've seen what happens when we let the truth get away from us, we need good journalism more than ever. We may very well be able to halt the rise of right wing fascism in democracies across the world with good journalism. Good journalism is key but so is building up the appetite for it.
Fact check things that sound outlandish or too good/bad to be true. Don't share news stories that can't be attributed to a credible source; don't go so far down the rabbit hole of partisanship that you aren't able to distinguish fact from fiction.
Not sure how to fact check something you've read?
- First draft news have a very handy guide to spotting a hoax.
- Factcheck.org is a real winner
- Fullfact.org is also a handy resource for UK political spectators.
Do your part to help yourself and others by leaving this post-truth hellscape in the trash where it belongs. For all our sake.
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