Recent outlandish headlines included "I Was Paid $3500 to Protest Trump's Rally" and "FBI Agent Suspected in Hillary's Email Leaks Found Dead in Apparent Murder-Suicide." The definition of "fake news" is broad, and not all these stories are invented from whole cloth, argues David Mikkelson, the founder of debunking website Snopes: Some are better described as "highly distorted clickbait," containing nuggets of fact repackaged into extraordinary falsehoods by partisans for political effect.
Under pressure to combat misinformation, CEO Mark Zuckerberg promised action in a Facebook post early Saturday morning: "I want you to know that we have always taken this seriously, we understand how important the issue is for our community and we are committed to getting this right."
So how exactly did fake news stories rise to such outsize prominence on Facebook? We've laid out a few key moments:
- Jan 2014
- Facebook launches its Trending News section to "surface interesting and relevant conversations in order to help you discover the best content"—optimized to reflect users' interests and deliver viral news.
- May 2016
- Tech news outlet Gizmodo reveals that Facebook's news curators "routinely suppressed" conservative stories from sites like Breitbart or Washington Examiner. Facebook denies the allegations. The company releases its 28-page editorial guidelinesshowing that human editors play a substantial role in the selection process, including blacklisting and removing stories that do not "reflect real-world events."
- June 2016
- August 2016
- Facebook fires its entire Trending News team and says it will instead rely on algorithms, with engineers fixing mistakes later. Within three days, a fake news story about Fox News anchor Megyn Kelly being fired for pro-Clinton views trends for several hours before being removed.
- Sept. 2016
- Facebook censors a Pulitzer Prize-winning photo of a Vietnamese girl fleeing Napalm for violating nudity standards, but restores it after a storm of criticism. The editor-in-chief of Aftenposten, the Norwegian newspaper that had posted the photo, cautions Zuckerberg: "Mark, you are the world's most powerful editor."