Quinn: Let’s get real about the fake news problem at Facebook, Google

Silicon Valley needs to get to the bottom of the fake news controversy post election and answer the question — what effect, if any, did fake news on its internet sites play in the outcome of the presidential race?

I agreed with Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg that the inquiry into fake news’ influence is “a pretty crazy idea.” It has struck me as part of the effort by supporters of Hillary Clinton to try to explain why Donald Trump won the election.

But then Sundar Pichai, CEO of Google, said that fake news likely had an effect at the margins in a tight race, according to the BBC.

I have to admit that I’ve been hopping over to Snopes.com, the rumor fact-checking site, to see whether it has tackled questionable stories I’ve seen popping up on Facebook. The site is hopping!

“There’s so much to fact-check,” Brooke Binkowski, managing editor of Snopes.com, the fact-checking site, told me. “At least half of all stories you read now are aggregated from other sites. People have lost a lot of trust from mainstream news.” Since the election, traffic to Snopes has spiked, she said.

As for Facebook and other internet companies taking steps, Binkowski said, “it’s a Band-aid solution to a much deeper problem.”

“I’m worried about that the problem isn’t just fake news but the mentality that breed people’s belief in fake news,” she said. “There’s the erosion and loss of credible media….Many of the fake news sites are predicated on fear of the other.”

Recently, I called on Facebook to set up an independent ombudsmen or group of outside experts that have access to Facebook’s data and focus on its news practices. The group would represents the interests of Facebook’s users and report back to them in a regular way, without fear of hurting the social network giant’s business.

That need became even more urgent this week.

On Tuesday, Facebook updated its ad policies to “spell out that its ban on deceptive and misleading content applies to fake news,” according to Reuters. The company denied a Gizmodo report that it had not implemented a tool that would have rooted out fake news because it feared a conservative backlash, reported Slate.

Meanwhile, a secret task force at Facebook is working on the issue, BuzzFeed says.

Why is it secret?

Facebook isn’t alone in its fake news troubles. Google said it would not let fake news sites use its ad network, as the Mercury News’ Ethan Baron reported.

But as Reuters pointed out, neither company appears to have recently addressed the issue of targeting actual fake news, whether it is shared by Facebook users or pops up in Google search results.

Zuckerberg has said he doesn’t see Facebook as a media firm and there will be some problems if Facebook has to become the arbiter of truth in journalism.

But as Zeynep Tufekci, an associate professor at the University of North Carolina, wrote in the New York Times, companies such as Facebook may have to sacrifice some “engagement” in order for more truth. And a lot is at stake:

This should not be seen as a partisan issue. The spread of false information online is corrosive for society at large.

What is likely is that fake news or not, Facebook’s role in this election will be studied for years:

Photo: Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg. (Kirstina Sangsahachart/ Daily News)


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  • York

    While fake news might be an issue it didn’t manage to swing the election to Hillary, so we avoided the downside of fake news. Now if fake news is ever eliminated what news organizations will actually be left? You have to admit that with the emails disclosing how tightly the MSM was working for Hillary, one could rightly argue that every MSM outlet was engaged in fake news from the start.

  • Able Reason

    “Fake news” or just everything not blessed by liberal gatekeepers? Smells like yet another attempt to censor anything that doesn’t draw from the cesspool of liberal groupthink. The great and mighty echo chamber and active suppression of conservative viewpoints is what led to this year’s election result. Thank yourselves for Trump. http://gizmodo.com/former-facebook-workers-we-routinely-suppressed-conser-1775461006

  • First of all, there’s nothing more fake than Snopes, unless we’re talking about the Tooth Fairy etc. Secondly, unless you’re completely brain-dead, you’d have to be incredibly naive to think that the contenders’ behind-the-scenes people would NOT use fake stories to sway votes. Is this news for children? Grow up.

    • Jones

      You first, dumbo.

  • sd

    The problem goes much deeper than “fake news” — which, despite the protestations of other posters here, is not a liberal invention and affected most candidates at the state level and higher.

    The truly fake stuff is not that hard to spot. Most of it is click-baity and all of it relies on a lack of context. What’s more insidious is the stuff that’s filtered heavily one way or the other. Think Fox News or MSNBC (just to tag both sides of the political spectrum) through the Wall Street Journal and the Atlantic kind of in the middle through to organizations like Associated Press and Reuters that try to walk the narrow, contextual road and label their thought pieces as such.

    The continued consolidation of news and entertainment sites doesn’t help, either. Too many news outlets are owned by the same people. Regardless of one’s political point of view, concentrating that much power in a few hands magnifies their voices far beyond the volume that could be achieved just 30 years ago.

    Finally, people (news consumers) are so busy trying to prove their own points and to prove the information available from the “other side” as totally detracting from The One True [their] Way that they can no longer approach the news analytically. When the political euphemisms come out (“collateral damage”,”right-sizing”, etc.) come out, accurate descriptions go out the window.

    It would be fine if a Trump voter saw a bunch of posts from news organizations all over the political map and then decided to vote for Trump. But to live in a self-reinforcing bubble of information, whether it comes from Facebook, Twitter, or their TV — Facebook and the like are messengers, not news sources. Filter yourself from the news and you filter yourself from reality.

    • I’ve found Trump voters to be much less fanatical than the others. It’s not pure opinion – in 1992-1993 I spent nearly a year compiling experiences with groups on the Left and Right, and found the Righties more down to Earth and less paranoid than the Lefties. Today we see fanatical protests by Democrat supporters that are way out there in the extremes, but had Hillary won, such protests on the part of Republican supporters would be minimal to nonexistent.

  • Thelip95032

    When they are done with that , they should take a look at the network news. It may not be fake but they don’t give all the facts either.

    • The film ‘Network’ is the gold standard of reporting on the credibility of network news. And it is fake. The news, that is.