”No news is good news,” the old saying goes. But fake news isn’t. In the echo chamber of social media, outright lies can go viral as easily as fact-checked reporting.
Just don’t ask Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg to care. He has dismissed as “pretty crazy” the idea that fake news spread on his site could have affected the presidential election.
He also claimed that 99 percent of the stories circulated on Facebook are factually accurate, which is itself a questionable data point.
Some of Facebook’s employees appear to be taking the issue a bit more seriously. A group of anonymous workers informed BuzzFeed News on Monday that they’d formed a “renegade” internal task force to combat fake news.
“It’s not a crazy idea,” one employee said. “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.”
One example of fake news is this anti-Hillary Clinton story from the faux Denver Guardian, which declared in all caps: “FBI AGENT SUSPECTED IN HILLARY EMAIL LEAKS FOUND DEAD IN APPARENT MURDER-SUICIDE.”
Everything about the article was made up, from the city where the crime supposedly occurred (there is no Walkerville, Maryland), to the quote from “Walkerville Police Chief Pat Frederick.” (A town with a similar spelling ― Walkersville ― does exist, but doesn’t even have a police department.)
The story was so egregious that The Denver Post, an actual legitimate news source with a reputation to uphold, felt it had to run its own article denying any connection to the fake news whatsoever:
Nevertheless, the bogus Clinton hit piece has been shared on Facebook some 568,000 times and earned more than 15.5 million impressions. That’s according to CrowdTangle, which tracks how content is shared across social media and which was recently acquired by Facebook.
“Zuckerberg’s position that Facebook has no responsibility for the fake news on their platform because it has no influence is beyond absurd,” Jon Favreau, President Barack Obama’s former speechwriter, wrote on Twitter.
Another faux story, also apparently produced by someone trying to boost Donald Trump:
To be fair: This problem isn’t unique to Facebook, and the lies aren’t all in conservatives’ favor. Both Google and Twitter have facilitated the spread of outright falsehoods, and all three digital giants are trying to clean up their act. But given Facebook’s sheer size ― 44 percent of U.S. adults get news from the website ― it has a clear obligation to try to weed out blatant misinformation.
“The systems that carry information to us all are filtered by what’s sensational — not by what’s true,” noted Eric Tucker, an Austin, Texas, resident who inadvertently helped spark a fake story about paid protesters on Twitter last week. “People are surprisingly uninterested in truth but very interested in what helps them to make their own case.”
Here are some other examples of “news” stories spread on Facebook that you really shouldn’t believe: