Pure and unfiltered | Photo: Jeremy Weate, CC BY 2.0
By now it’s obvious to everybody but Zuckerberg that Facebook’s failure to fight so-called “news” that was outright fabricated by clickbait merchants may have had a significant impact on the presidential election. And while The Zuck hasn’t got any plans to actually do anything about it, calling the very idea that Facebook’s spreading around of fake news like so much farm fertilizer could affect the election “pretty crazy,” Buzzfeed is reporting that inside the company there’s some dissent on that front.
It is, I have heard said, the responsibility of the educated citizen to identify false or misleading news and ignore it. But not everyone has the benefit of an education in skepticism, and even those of us that do have get caught sometimes. And the American internet-going populace isn’t great at determining fact from fiction all the time either: remember, 30% of the population isn’t sure or outright disbelieves in the facticity of climate change, and only 15% of the population doesn’t have internet access, so you do the math there.
It’s pretty clear that the outright liars — the people who report things that are literally not true, not for satire but just for clickbait purposes — at the very least need to have a label applied. Maybe they don’t need to be censored, but if in everyone’s feed the headline “Obama Employing Illegal Aliens in White House Kitchen” comes up with a big sticker next to it reading “Note: Fake or Satire” we’d all be a little better off.
And it looks like maybe Facebook’s employees might think so too, though with The Zuck being against them they’re being pretty cagey about it (this is, of course, if Buzzfeed News’s unnamed sources are to be believed). According to their report, anywhere from half a dozen to “dozens” of employees are secretly meeting to come up with a plan to fight fake news on the Book of Faces, especially in light of the very real appearance of a partisan effect.
So will it happen? Who knows. Zuckerberg has been pretty closed-off to the idea of doing anything about fake news on the site, for fear of a conservative backlash (the truth, it appears, really does have a slightly liberal bias, but it’s enough for them to feel slighted if it’s cut off), but maybe if his employees can convince him otherwise, they might actually do something about it.
In the meantime, you can stay at least a little ahead of the game by checking out this list of news sites by Melissa Zimdars, which is broken down into four categories ranging from sites that “rely on “outrage” by using distorted headlines and decontextualized or dubious information in order to generate likes, shares, and profits,” to others that “are purposefully fake with the intent of satire/comedy, which can offer important critical commentary on politics and society, but have the potential to be shared as actual/literal news.” Seriously, go check it out, bookmark it, and whenever you encounter a story you’re not 100% on, refer back to it. Maybe just leave it open in another tab.
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Richard Ford Burley is a human, writer, and doctoral candidate at Boston College, as well as an editor at Ledger, the first academic journal devoted to Bitcoin and other cryptocurrencies. In his spare time he writes about science, skepticism, feminism, and futurism here at This Week In Tomorrow.