In a post on the popular social media platform on Saturday, CEO Mark Zuckerberg shed some light on the steps his team is taking to tackle the issue of fake news being shared and propagated to masses. This comes in the light of current U.S. president, Barack Obama, criticizing Facebook for playing a part in spreading hateful and misogynistic news which ultimately helped Donald J. Trump win the election and secure the coveted seat in White House.
Where did the problem start from?
Facebook has always been viewed as a platform which encouraged freedom of speech and allowed its users to speak what’s on their mind. In the past few years, Facebook has transformed from a place of social interaction among individuals to a source of news and information for common people. Most people want to get all their news through a single channel, which saves them the time taken to sift from one website to another. This is where Facebook has excelled in the past few years. With news agencies’ pages ensuring that their readers remains up to date with the latest ongoing in the world to social media champions with millions of followers sharing their ideas and views with readers, the platform has transformed into a gigantic discussion platform.
This is where the problem arises. When you have more than a billion active users, a rumor spreads like a wildfire. Sensationalism is at its peak on Facebook these days. Most users do not care to confirm the source of a news before sharing it forward. This chain of sharing false news ultimately ends up with the accurate and factual news buried deep down somewhere in a small pile of likes and shares.
How did it affect the U.S. election?
The United States of America oversaw a bewildering and astounding election campaign for the past two years. It ended with Donald J. Trump eventually trumping Hillary Clinton to become the President-elect. Facebook and other social media platforms played a huge part in determining the result of this election. Donald Trump used all the platforms effectively to deliver his message to his supporters.
But the influence of social media wasn’t limited to candidates’ individual messages. Throughout the campaign, Facebook was used to spread either non-factual or exaggerated news to undermine the campaign of other candidates. According to Democratic party’s sources, this played a huge part in Hillary Clinton losing the election to Donald Trump. Speaking on this issue, current U.S. President Barack Obama said:
“In such a world, everything is true and nothing is true. An explanation of climate change from a Nobel Prize-winning physicist looks exactly the same on your Facebook page as the denial of climate change by somebody on the Koch brothers’ payroll. And the capacity to disseminate misinformation, wild conspiracy theories, to paint the opposition in wildly negative light without any rebuttal — that has accelerated in ways that much more sharply polarize the electorate and make it very difficult to have a common conversation.”
Mark Zuckerberg’s response to these allegations
While speaking on this issue through a post on Facebook, Mark accepted that misinformation is a big issue on Facebook; an issue which everyone at Facebook takes very seriously. While he acknowledged that giving everyone a voice is necessary in this day and age, stopping someone from blatantly spread false information is important when it comes to such a big platform. So in addition to the traditional system of users reporting something they think is violating the community guidelines, he highlighted following steps being taken to ensure the platform remains free from misguided news:
- Stronger detection. Using better technical systems to detect what people will flag as false before they do it themselves.
- Easy reporting. Making it much easier for people to report stories as fake will help Facebook catch more misinformation faster.
- Third party verification. There are many respected fact-checking organizations and, while Facebook has reached out to some, they plan to learn from much more.
- Warnings. They are exploring labeling stories that have been flagged as false by third parties or their community and showing warnings when people read or share them.
- Related articles quality. They are raising the bar for stories that appear in related articles under links in News Feed.
- Disrupting fake news economics. A lot of misinformation is driven by financially motivated spam. They’re looking into disrupting the economics with ads policies like the one they announced earlier this week, and better ad farm detection.
- Listening. Facebook will continue to work with journalists and others in the news industry to get their input, in particular, to better understand their fact checking systems and learn from them.
How prevalent is this problem in Pakistan?
With more than 10.9% of the population currently using internet for communication and information sharing purposes, this beast of a problem is also surfacing its head in Pakistan. 2013 election was a good sign of this imminent issue. Hate comments, online bashing of political figures and most important of all, sharing of unconfirmed and unofficial news was a big part of the elections. Although, it can be argued that this didn’t affect the outcome of the election, as more and more people in Pakistan get accustomed to social media, there is a big possibility that such tactics will be used in future to influence outcomes of decisions dependent on approval from a majority of the populace.
While we wait for Facebook to see through their plans to limit misinformation and fake news, as users of social media, it is also our responsibility to make sure that such news is curbed before it can cause significant damage to society. So before sharing any news with other people, make sure that it comes from an authentic source.