Some Facebook employees want to crack down on fake news. (More)

“Fake news ran wild on our platform during the entire campaign season”

The headlines in the image above are based on stories that circulated on Facebook before the election. The fake news site WTOE 5 published the false story of Pope Francis endorsing Donald Trump, and the equally fake Denver Guardian published the equally false story of a FBI agent’s murder-suicide. The article debunking the Pope Francis story has been shared 70,000 times, but the false article was shared 94,000 times. The article debunking the FBI agent story has been shared 7000 times, but the false article was shared over half-a-million times.

That has some Facebook employees concerned enough to act:

Facebook employees have formed an unofficial task force to question the role their company played in promoting fake news in the lead-up to Donald Trump’s victory in the US election last week, amid a larger, national debate over the rise of fake and misleading news articles in a platform used by more than 150 million Americans.

The task force, which sources tell BuzzFeed News includes employees from across the company, has already rebutted a statement made by Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg at a conference last week that the argument that fake news on Facebook affected the election was “a pretty crazy idea.”

“It’s not a crazy idea. What’s crazy is for him to come out and dismiss it like that, when he knows, and those of us at the company know, that fake news ran wild on our platform during the entire campaign season,” said one Facebook employee, who works in the social network’s engineering division. He, like the four other Facebook employees who spoke to BuzzFeed News for this story, would only speak on condition of anonymity. All five employees said they had been warned by their superiors against speaking to press, and feared they would lose their jobs if named.

The employees are currently holding private meetings in their off-hours, but say they hope to make reform proposals through company channels.

“Identifying the ‘truth’ is complicated”

They shouldn’t expect a good reception, as Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg thinks there’s no significant problem:

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.

In a related story, more than 99% of Americans were not murdered last year, so I guess we can shut down police homicide departments. Simply, Zuckerberg’s response is bullshit-with-numbers. But he kept shoveling:

This is an area where I believe we must proceed very carefully though. Identifying the “truth” is complicated. While some hoaxes can be completely debunked, a greater amount of content, including from mainstream sources, often gets the basic idea right but some details wrong or omitted. An even greater volume of stories express an opinion that many will disagree with and flag as incorrect even when factual. I am confident we can find ways for our community to tell us what content is most meaningful, but I believe we must be extremely cautious about becoming arbiters of truth ourselves.

Puh-leeze. There is no town of Walkerville, Maryland. There is a Walkersville, but it has no police force and thus no Chief Pat Frederick, who was quoted in the Denver Guardian story. The photo accompanying the story was stolen from Flickr. The Denver Guardian’s mailing address is a tree. (No, it’s not run by squirrels.)

Instead of admitting the problem, Zuckerberg stirs viral Facebook hoaxes into the same bowl with mainstream news articles that that get “the basic idea right but some details wrong or omitted,” and opinions “that many will disagree with and flag as incorrect even when factual.” And he sets that up by putting “truth” in scare-quotes.

“The real victory is that it put the fear of God into Facebook”

So no, he won’t do a damn thing about click-bait hoaxes, in part because they’re good for revenue and in part because he’s afraid of the right-wing backlash:

This demonstrates the benefit of working the refs. Back in May, an ex-Facebook employee accused Facebook of manipulating its Trending Topics feed to favor liberal stories. Conservatives naturally went ballistic, and their shitstorm of abuse worked: Facebook caved in and agreed to change its process even though there was never any real evidence of liberal bias in the first place.

That was a victory, but not the real victory. The real victory is that it put the fear of God into Facebook, which became hypersensitive to anything that might affect right-wing sites – even if those sites were plainly bogus.

Again, that Denver Guardian article was shared over half-a-million times. To put that in perspective, the top stories on the same day from the Boston Globe, Chicago Tribune, Los Angeles Times, and Washington Post combined had only 250,000 shares.

For Zuckerberg, real news simply isn’t as profitable as fake news, especially if banning the fake news will draw fire from right-wingers. And those incentives will only worsen under President Conspiracy Theory, with Stephen Bannon using the power the White House to bully anyone who disagrees.

No one knows who coined the phrase: “In a time of universal deceit, telling the truth is a revolutionary act.” But we’re about to see it in action.


Image Credit: Crissie Brown (

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