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Facebook fake news crisis heats up

Mark Zuckerberg, Facebook CEO
Mark Zuckerberg, Facebook CEO Reuters/Stephen Lam

Facebook and Google are moving to control the spread of bogus news on their sites. This follows revelations that infactual reports spread on Facebook, Twitter and Google helped US President-elect Donald Trump win last week’s vote. 


Although both Facebook and Google initially moved to play down the issue of the amount of fake news circulating on their platforms over past months, both companies pledged on Monday to do something about it.

Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg first came out last week slamming claims that fake news and hoaxes on Facebook swayed the vote, as a "pretty crazy idea". Now he’s promising to take measures to control such misinformation, though he says it represents only one percent of all news content on Facebook.

But internet researcher Alix Deforges from the Castex Chair of Cyber Strategy in Paris, which analyses internet security and regulatory issues, disagrees. She says the level to which the bogus news influenced the US election result is unclear, but what is sure she says, is that the American public is strongly influenced by such illegitimate sources. And she adds there is an alarming level of false news being peddled online, which spreads like wildfire:

"A recent study found that people in the US tend to fall for such un-factual news sources with some 60 percent looking to social media sites as a primary news source - and taking the information as bona fida, without really questioning its accuracy."

Advertising partially to blame?

Google meanwhile has pledged to crack down on advertisers, who it appears go all-out to get misleading stories up and running.

That tendency has accelerated during the US presidential campaign according to Philip Howard, professor of internet studies at the social media-dedicated Oxford Internet Institute.

"One of the things they tend to do," Howard told RFI, "is take ridiculous images and outrageous stories, and quite frankly lies, and perpetuate the lies. And they make the outrageous stories circulate much farther than they really should. So Trump in particular is good at saying things that become hashtags, and he's been caught out in several lies."

Desforges says the big question now is who should take responsibility for the problem, especially when it comes to private companies who profit from online advertorial content.

"The question is who decides what stays and goes from these social media sites? Do we leave it up to these companies to decide what is factual news, and what is false? At times it can be difficult to tell, so who will have the final word? That’s what is at stake here and it’s going to be a major issue of debate."

Howard agrees. He's says if Facebook or anyone else is taking add revenue from fake new sources they need to be pulled up:

"Facebook's data is rich enough that it probably new that all the journalists were wrong and that the pollsters were wrong. And we expect our media companies in times of elections to do something’s for democratic conversation."

The solution Howard puts forth is to establish an independent public editor for Facebook, who in his words ensures political honesty online becomes as squeaky clean as advertising for ketchup or mayonnaise, which unlike political speech in the US, is totally regulated.

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