Saturday, November 26, 2016

A Brief History of How Fake News Spreads So Easily on Facebook

What role did Facebook-fueled fake news play during the election? We don't yet have all the answers, but one BuzzFeed analysis found that largely pro-Trump fake stories received more "engagements"—shares, reactions, and comments—than the top election stories from 19 major news outlets combined. That's not trivial. According to the Pew Research Center, most Americans who turn to social media for their news are only getting it from one platform—with Facebook being the most common.


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."
Facebook founder and CEO Mark Zuckerberg also meets with a group of conservative leaders, including Glenn Beck and Barry Bennett, a senior Trump campaign adviser, to discuss their concerns of bias. (Breitbart editors declined the invitation, saying they had already "out-hustled" Facebook.)
June 2016
Facebook announces changes to its algorithm to prioritizepersonal posts and shares from friends and family over business pages, including news outlets. Some publishers freak out about traffic.
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.

Facebook screenshot via Washington Post
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."

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