Others’ opinions: Social media giant Facebook must stop fake news

Published 8:43 am Tuesday, January 2, 2018

The Free Press, Mankato
For a media platform with more followers than The New York Times and Washington Post combined, Facebook remains far behind in coming to terms with its social and public responsibility as a media organization.

Facebook leaders seemed surprised to learn early this year, for example, that its platform was used by Russian advertising trolls bent on influencing the U.S. presidential election. Facebook executives seemed oblivious to the fact that fake news masquerading as real news was shared on its platform without any question. When the impact of the fake news and ads became clear shortly after the election, Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg said it was a “crazy idea.”

Company executives admitted during a congressional hearing that Facebook had been used to spread misinformation on the election. Facebook admitted that some 126 million Americans saw “inflammatory” political ads from a Kremlin-linked company.

Email newsletter signup

It was only after evidence surfaced that these frauds were a reality did Facebook make an attempt to enlist professional journalists and editors to fact check its news. Now, some of those fact checkers see Facebook using them as part of a public relations campaign. They’re hampered in their work because Facebook will not allow them access to some internal workings and technology, according to a report in Editor and Publisher.

Facebook and other social media have a profit model that rewards “sharing,” regardless of the accuracy. And while Facebook agreed to hire 1,000 additional employees to scrutinize Facebook ads, it admitted it would not be able to review all of them before publication, and it will go right on collecting its fees from those ads.

Of course, Facebook can’t be successful if people don’t use it. It makes its money on the size of its audience, and the free social media outlet that many find useful to connect with family and friends can be just as easily used for evil purposes.

Sen. Amy Klobuchar of Minnesota is sponsoring legislation with Sen. John McCain that would require disclosure of who is buying political ads on social media, just as we require the disclosure of such advertising on television. That would be a good start to getting more transparency out of a powerful media institution.

Facebook executives continue to contend that it is not a true media company and is only the conduit for their audience’s messages. But that’s like a newspaper saying it’s not responsible for publishing letters to the editor or stories from other sources. In that sense, newspapers have much more legal culpability than Facebook.

While this newspaper uses Facebook to create links to its legitimate and verified news stories on its website, it has safeguards to protect against publishing fake news or fraudulent advertising.

Facebook profits handsomely from its ability to skirt responsibility for publishing fake news. The public and democracy is not served by that business model.
Distributed by Tribune Content Agency, LLC