(image credit: Alessio Jacona)
The distribution of misinformation has been a key element of the US election, but this has so far been mainly attributed to President-elect Donald Trump and his supporters. However, Facebook came under fire on Thursday when a number of news sources commented on the possibility that the dissemination of fake news on Facebook may have influenced undecided voters to cast their ballots for the reality TV star.
Facebook’s current business model for news prioritizes popularity over truth. Engagement metrics such as how many times a segment is liked or shared to determine the segment’s monetary value for advertisers, which determines its position on Facebook’s news feed. Users are linked to segments relevant to their own shares and likes, but due to the business model these segments are often clickbait or incorrect.
The reasons why people spread fake news on Facebook range from monetary incentives to pranks to the intentional spread of disinformation for political or other reasons. A recent study by the Pew Research Center found that 44% of Americans sourced their news from Facebook, so the cause for concern is understandable.
Indeed, President Obama commented on the situation this week saying that fake news on Facebook
“creates this dust cloud of nonsense.”
As a result, Zuckerberg was forced to defend his company this week and rejected the likelihood that Facebook played a part in Trump’s surprise victory. Speaking at the Techonomy conference near San Francisco on Thursday, Zuckerberg said
“Voters make decisions based on their lived experience,”
“There is a profound lack of empathy in asserting that the only reason someone could have voted the way they did is because they saw fakes news,”
While Zuckerberg may believe that most voters made an informed decision based on experience, he does not know this for fact. People are complicated and their political beliefs even more so, the result of not just personal experience but a myriad of factors including societal standing, gender, race, culture, religion, emotions, history, perception of others and more.
There is also the issue of the undecided voters who could have been swayed in one direction or the other by what they read in the news. The Huffington Post’s polling averages shows that percentage of undecided voters has ranged from a high of 10.9% of all registered voters in April of this year to a low of 4% in October. The final percentage in the days leading up to the election was somewhere around 5.5%.
Zuckerberg’s response to the recent insinuations comes across as either extremely naive or, ironically, misinformed. As Facebook CEO, it is ultimately his responsibility to ensure that his platform is not providing misinformation to the 44% of Americans who use it as their news source. His refusal to directly address the problem of fake news is extremely discouraging, as it suggests that he is either oblivious to this responsibility or does not take it as seriously as the company’s profits. Either way, until this issue is resolved, Facebook will continue to contribute to the confusion of and division among its users.
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