Photo © 2016 By DonkeyHotey [CC BY 2.0]
As evidenced by this article I read in class, fake news stories have become an overgrowing big problem this year. Mark Zuckerberg and Facebook recently came under fire for apparently doing very little to stop internet hoaxes. Fake news stories, many about this year’s election, were exposed to tens of millions of people who might have understood them as truth. Some have gone as far as saying that Facebook and Zuckerberg are responsible for the outcome of this election, to which Zuckerberg responded in a public post on his Facebook saying:
“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.”
But a large amount of people (including myself) don’t agree with Zuckerberg, claiming that “99%” he’s pulling from most likely wan’t just limited to news sources. This issue is particularly troubling because new research has found that 44% of Americans get their news from Facebook (myself included). Fact-checking done by BuzzFeed News concluded that “top right-wing Facebook news outlets published false or misleading stories 38 percent of the time, as did 20 percent of top left-wing outlets” – far from Zuckerberg’s supposed 1%. In fact, one reason why fake news has become so prevalent this year is because Facebook decided to remove both human editors and descriptions from their trending feature. Even I have sometimes clicked on what seemed like an interesting “keyword”, only to find that it led to completely obscure and unreliable sources. This issue is further exacerbated by the fact that, as my teacher Mr. Ziebarth pointed out, hundreds of Facebook employees themselves disagree with Zuckerberg.
However, it is important to remember that in Camila Domonoske’s article, fake news is not just a problem limited to Facebook, and has in fact run rampant everywhere.A great example of this was how, for a brief period of time, if one searched ‘final election results’ in Google, it would direct them to a fake news site which claimed Donald Trump won the popular vote, despite him actually losing by over 3 million votes. Those who were misled posted all over social media platforms such as twitter, causing millions to be misinformed. In response to this error, google promptly vowed it would ban any site which displayed fake news. As to how they will do this, it comes down to money, like always. Many sites post fake news because they know how controversy attracts views and clicks. More people entering the webpage or fake news article means more ad revenue. Many have been keen to point out this is the reason Facebook has allowed the problem to spread for so long. Therefore, Google has now vowed to cut off ad revenue from any fake news site, targeting their motives directly. Facebook has also decided to follow suit. All is well right?
Not quite. Though this solves one end of the problem, many fake news sites are purposefully malicious and their only desire is to misinform the public. Therefore we would have to either develop advanced algorithms to sort these out or employ human editors – though there is always a possibility of bias. So, it comes down to this. I really am disturbed that the Stanford study found 80% of what are supposed to be our best and brightest college undergraduates unable to discern fake news from real. To be frank, this problem will not be fixed any time soon. The only way that I see this truly coming to an end is if we will be able to educate ourselves. Public education will be the number one method to combat ignorance online. So whether that be in the form of classes at school or self discipline, I shall wait to see what the our next move is as a populous.