The recent U.S. election was a brutal one. Social media was littered with political disarray, and people were not quiet about their disgust for the candidates and the two-party system.
Social media is great that way anyone can express themselves freely about whatever it is they feel passionately about. However, when people look at social media as a factual, reliable news source rather than a digitized, public message board, the facts become lost in digital translation.
Unfortunately, not even real news outlets are safe from the fake-news epidemic.
Fox News aired a story on a “secret transcript” of a speech supposedly given by Hilary Clinton in which she referred to Bernie Sanders’ supporters as a “bucket of losers.” The story would have been huge— had any of it been true.
Fabricated by Marco Chacon, a man who actively posts fake news to his website and social media, the story quickly spiraled out of his control.
“My hands were shaking, I was like, ‘This is ridiculous,’” Chacon said in an interview with ABC News. “I was thinking that, that had gone way too far.”
Fake news sites like Chacon’s aren’t that uncommon. Some are based outside the United States, a few circulate these stories with the hopes that enough clicks will bring in advertisers and revenue and a few serve as a hobby to bored 20-somethings.
These blogs and online magazines would be quite harmless on their own, but when integrated into social media they transform into fast-moving, lie-spitting monsters.
One of the biggest culprits of circulating false news stories is Facebook. The infestation of fake news invading Facebook is especially troubling considering nearly 45 percent of American adults reported getting some or all of their news from Facebook. Fake news stories circulated on the site include Pope Francis’ endorsement of Donald Trump, that a protester was paid to disrupt a Trump rally and that an FBI agent was assassinated by the Clintons. The amount of influence these stories had on the election is impossible to measure, but some Clinton supporters have even gone as far as accusing Facebook of swaying the election.
Mark Zuckerberg, Facebook’s founder and CEO, has made moves to filter out fake news stories. In a statement posted on his social media site, Zuckerberg said that it was “extremely unlikely hoaxes changed the outcome of this election.”
However unlikely, Zuckerberg is still making moves to limit the amount of fake news slithering its way onto the site, but he is doing so cautiously.
This is an area where I believe we must proceed very carefully. Identifying the “truth” is complicated.
“An even greater volume of stories expresses an opinion that many will disagree with and flag as incorrect even when factual,” Zuckerberg said in his statement. “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.”
Zuckerberg is right to be cautious. The massive amounts of information shared on Facebook, and consequently circulated around the world, will be difficult to weed through. The balance between en-suring the free flow of expression with the need to limit falsified stories will be challenging when many users post their versions of reality daily.
This is a very new problem. The ways people receive and interpret their news is rapidly changing. Facebook was not founded with the intention or the responsibility of a reliable news source, but it will have to find a way to evolve.