How Fake News Influences Big Tech Watchdogs
During the last week of April 2017 Facebook users engaged in a contest that involved posting ten concerts they've been to, in which followers had to guess which one was a lie. It was such a massively successful campaign to increase click volume that it flooded news feeds with endless posts about it. Even people who generally don't respond to such orchestration participated. It further raised questions as to what role Facebook plays in new media.
Up until the 2016 election in November, Facebook CEO/Founder Mark Zuckerberg insisted that he ran a technology platform, not a media company. The platform, he explained to reporters, was impersonal and objective, allowing users to create and distribute their content. He was responding to criticism that Facebook helped influence the presidential election, which many people claimed was driven by fake news shared on Facebook.
But someone must have pointed out to him that all tech platforms are forms of media, since by the end of the month he said in a video interview with his COO Sheryl Sandberg that Facebook was "not a traditional media company." This story was reported by Fortune in its 12/23/2016 issue. Zuckerberg said that Facebook doesn't write the news, but admitted that the company plays a more significant role than just distributing news, as the site is an "important part of the public discourse."
Realizing that maybe fake news can fake out society, Facebook announced the next month that it would partner with the Information Fact-Checking Network (IFCN) to deliver a fact-checking tool that alerts users about "disputed content." The rollout of this tool was reported on March 21, 2017 by The Guardian. The software links to Snopes, AP and Facebook's official help page.
Keep in mind that AP is the organization that influenced the California Primary in which polls showed Bernie Sanders was in a tight race with Hillary Clinton with record registration, particularly among young people. The day before the June 7, 2016 primary, however, AP announced from its secret polling of superdelegates that Clinton had already clinched the nomination. The result was a low turnout and Clinton won the primary by a wide margin.
So Facebook now admits it's some kind of media company and it has appointed itself to be a watchdog against fake news, delegating AP as a judge. Then it turns allows a contest about lying to spread on its platform. It's unclear if the "poll" came from a user or a Facebook staff member trying to generate massive clicks across the social network. When you consider that Facebook has about 1.8 billion users and that a significant percentage of people played this game, it's not a stretch to say they facilitated millions of lies that would have never happened without this gimmick.
Not that lying about concerts is going to end the world, but it seems ridiculous that Facebook allows polls that promote lies of any kind after all the fake news scandals of the past year. There are trillions of different ways to have fun without lying about anything. On top of that, CNN reported in April 2017 that Facebook has 83 million fake profiles. So shouldn't Facebook's priority be to reduce its own fakeness before it tries to start policing fakeness?