Should Facebook Let Users Define Fake News?

Mark Zuckerberg has long taken it upon himself to make an enemy of “fake news”. Aside from the fact that a decent portion of the U.S. population has its own definition of the concept that contradicts what another portion of it believes (this is known as politicization of media), there’s also the fact that Facebook itself has had its share of trouble attempting to define what exactly is or isn’t fake news. Now that Zuckerberg is considering letting Facebook users make this determination through a series of surveys, it’s time to explore the idea in depth and consider the potential pitfalls in this strategy.

fakenews-survey

It’s difficult for a company like Facebook — with millions of posts appearing every single hour on its website — to hire enough staff to scour through all of the content on its site and determine which sources aren’t reputable enough to get a gold star of approval. It would require a massive continuous effort that will never end.

So, one of the first solutions to this problem that comes to mind is the use of machine learning and several algorithms to automate the process. This method, though less costly, can backfire because machine learning is still not advanced enough to reliably predict whether a story will report truthful things or not.

Perhaps the most successful implementation of “fake news detection” was when Facebook began compiling data from third-party fact checkers to tag certain posts as “disputed”. This, of course, only made users more likely to click on the stories that appeared with a red flag next to them.

In 2018, Adam Mosseri — Facebook’s Head of News Feed — announced that the social network is experimenting with surveys, asking the users themselves what they consider trustworthy.

Here’s where the problem lies: We don’t know how they selected the sample group for participants in the survey.

fakenews-majority

There’s an old adage that’s very relevant here: “What is right is not always popular, and what is popular is not always right.

If you can get 299 out of 300 people to agree that Europe doesn’t exist, the continent won’t just disappear because of that. Most people will trust one news source over another, and that source may not be the most reliable, but it certainly resonates with what the majority of the population wishes were true.

When telling a story, peer review and empiricism don’t apply. These are just observations made by someone who retells the story (ultimately) from their own perspective, which will be tainted with at least a tiny amount of bias because we’re human beings.

We also have to take into consideration that Facebook’s users normally post news stories to prove a point, not necessarily to pass on information mechanically.

The point here is that surveying people to determine what is or isn’t fake news might not be the best idea because the only true conclusion we can draw from such data is whether a news source is popular or not.

The purpose of the survey was to determine what users find familiar and trustworthy, and Facebook says that the data will “help to inform ranking in News Feed.” This sounds less like the company is attempting to stop certain news items from appearing on people’s feeds and more like they’re attempting to display a rank based on what most people find trustworthy.

A low ranking would show you that most people don’t trust what you’re seeing on your news feed.

We still, however, must show some concern for the fact that we have no idea about the selection criteria for the participants of the survey. Facebook only said that the sample was “diverse and representative”.

In the end, it is human nature to be subjective and exhibit a bias. No technology or legal system on this planet can put a stop to that, especially since human beings themselves have a hand in creating both.

Do you think we would ever find a solution to fake news, or is this just part and parcel of having an internet connection these days? Tell us your thoughts in a comment!

5 comments

  1. “(this is known as politicization of media)”
    NO! That is know as a difference of opinion.

    ” they’re attempting to display a rank based on what most people find trustworthy.
    People find ideas/facts/news that they agree with as trustworthy and “true”.

    “A low ranking would show you that most people don’t trust what you’re seeing on your news feed.”
    But it would not mean that the news story was untrue or in today’s vernacular “fake news”. To paraphrase Anatole France, a French novelist “If 500 million people say the wrong thing, it is still the wrong thing”. How many millions of people have declared that Donald Trump is “MY President”? NEWS FLASH, people! In spite of your very strong sentiment, Trump is still your President and will be for another three years or so.

    We declare as “fake news” anything that we do not agree with or do not approve of. It has been around as long as humans have been communicating with each other. At one time it was labeled as “propaganda”. The term “fake news” was popularized by both candidates during the last election campaign. They would categorize any negative news item about themselves as “fake news”. Interestingly, no bloviating about what great human beings the candidates are and what great and wondrous things they will accomplished for the nation when elected, was ever categorized as “fake news” but was accepted as the God’s Honest Truth.

    “Do you think we would ever find a solution to fake news”
    Sure. There is one sure way of wiping out “fake news” – CENSORSHIP. And that is exactly what Zuckerberg is proposing to do. Any news item he, or his committee. does not like/approve of will be deep sixed
    We’ve had “fake news”, under one label or another, for thousands of years. What makes Mark Zuckerberg think that he can wipe it out in couple of months?

    “is this just part and parcel of having an internet connection these days?”
    The only effect an internet connection has on “fake news” is that it helps to disseminated faster. ALL media contains “fake news”. It is part and parcel of being a member of the human race.

    • Agreed on all points. It appears that the hysteria surrounding fake nooz over the last two years has just been an attempt to make something new out of something that has actually been around since we first invented language.

  2. Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump gave “fake news” a bad reputation. However, in spite of those two, “fake news” can and has been used to achieve positive results. “Fake news” instigated the Japanese attack on Midway Island which cost them dearly. The “fake news” provided by Operation Fortitude insured the success of D Day. The “fake news” of US proceeding full steam ahead with SDI contributed greatly to the dissolution of the Soviet Union and the fall of the Communist regime. “Fake news” by you leads to stupid decisions by other people.

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