seriously facebook, just quit the news biz

Facebook can't fix its fake news problem because the damage is already done and mitigating it means jeopardizing its primary draw for users.
three monkeys

With technology playing such a big role in shaping up the conditions which led to this wild election year, and will be shaping them for decades to come, it seems appropriate that the first villain in the narrative of the election is a technology company. Facebook has a fake partisan news problem. It knows that it does and refuses to acknowledge it, telling everyone who it thinks is going to believe them that 99% of the stories shared in their news feeds are totally authentic. It also denied the rumors that it’s afraid of a right wing backlash should it start going after the foreign-based fake conservative news sites so popular with the pro-Trump crowd, but considering that when one of its human news editors used to train its news feed algorithm claimed the company wasn’t using enough right-slanted sources it buckled under all the scorn heaped on it by Republicans, that denial seems disingenuous.

Sure it will drop some fake news sites until new ones pop up, and they may even add some sort of fact check, but that won’t do any good because they face a human problem, not a technical one. More PHP isn’t going to fix the partisans’ obsession with staying in their echo chambers and demanding an unceasing torrent of stories that conform to their worldview. It’s not unique to social media, it’s just what they do. Even writing about popular science is seldom safe as rabid anti-vaxxers and furious creationists demand to know who’s paying you to write anything positive about the flu vaccine, or try to diagnose you with a substance abuse problem for being an atheist since you didn’t refer to evolution as “Satan’s trickery.” Going into news to drive more eyeballs to stories and prompt newspapers to take money they don’t have to promote stories and hopefully drive some traffic is a revenue stream, but it’s also an invitation to flood feeds with noxious politics from dubious sources, and laden with partisan spin and of questionable factuality.

Facebook, and really all social media, is practically designed to steer people into cozy bubbles, which is part of its success. People like echo chambers of like-minded friends and contacts, and they want to stay in them, especially those on the right, convinced that anything other than Fox News, Breitbart, and sites that sound like them, are socialist propaganda. And in today’s not so calm political climate, having the biggest news aggregator online, ran by a Jew, drop a conservative site from its sources would go over about as well as letting a rabid raccoon perform an emergency appendectomy on you in a dark alley. This is a game Facebook cannot win because shutting down the torrent of fake news will infuriate partisans, especially if it surgically targets the biggest and most popular offenders. Conservatives may literally show up in Menlo Park with torches and pitchforks, Bay Area liberals will treat their workers like those in the 13th century treated lepers, and if it does nothing Earth-shattering, it will be lambasted for enabling bigotry and frauds. And in a game you can’t win, the only winning move is not to play.

# tech // facebook / journalism / news


  Show Comments