“After the election,” wrote Mark Zuckerberg on November 12, “Many people are asking whether fake news contributed to the result, and what our responsibility is to prevent fake news from spreading. These are very important questions and I care deeply about getting them right. I want to do my best to explain what we know here.”
Zuckerberg continued, “Of all the content on Facebook, more than 99% of what people see is authentic. Only a very small amount is fake news and hoaxes. The hoaxes that do exist are not limited to one partisan view, or even to politics. Overall, this makes it extremely unlikely hoaxes changed the outcome of this election in one direction or the other.”
Let’s break down this statement a bit. He didn’t say that 99% of all news or political posts are authentic; he said of all posts. Since news and politics represent a subset of all the content people post, you could interpret his statement to be a bit misleading. Obviously, a significant portion of Facebook posts are selfies, pictures of friends or families, people venting, silly animal videos, silly people videos, and so on; these are “authentic”.
The larger question is: are Facebook and other social media outlets making it too easy for deviant people and groups to manipulate the rest of us?
Bloomberg reports: maybe, maybe not:
“It is a very slippery slope,” said Eugene Kiely, the director of FactCheck.org, a nonprofit that aims to reduce the level of deception and confusion in U.S. politics. “There’s bad information out there that’s not necessarily fake. It’s never as clear-cut as you think.”
Let’s face the facts. The nature of social media is that it is a never-ending stream of messy conversations, rather than a disciplined journalism machine. People say – and write – lots of things that are inaccurate. Nobody fact-checks what you say to your family and friends, do they? (My guess is that half of the stuff I say out loud is somewhere between slightly inaccurate and dead wrong.)
Even Wall Street analysts, many of whom get paid millions of dollars a year for their expertise, only have to be right 51% of the time.
But there’s a but. You saw that coming, right?
But some people – and groups – clearly use social media to deceive. The problem is that a few of them are very, very good at this. So Facebook and other outlets can’t ignore the issue. By the same token, neither should you or I. We all need to be more vigilant about thinking carefully before we repeat or share something.
As Zuckerberg put it, “We don’t want any hoaxes on Facebook. Our goal is to show people the content they will find most meaningful, and people want accurate news. We have already launched work enabling our community to flag hoaxes and fake news, and there is more we can do here. We have made progress, and we will continue to work on this to improve further.”