Fake news is an epidemic on Facebook; It may have swung the election.

 

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Like many in the U.S., I’ve been in a state of shock all week. A stupor is probably more accurate. I think I showered for the first time on Saturday, following Trump’s Tuesday victory.

I’ve been trying to understand how this happened, voraciously reading anything I can find that offers a semblance of a clue while at the same time, continuing to feel more and more queasy. Pushing myself to keep reading and push through the nausea.

There are a lot of important threads to follow: pure racism isn’t the full story. It’s part of it, to be sure, but there are other actors in play that we as a nation need to pay attention to.

I do not say that to diminish the plight of those worried for their citizenship or fearing for their lives right now in the face of increased hate crimes. Your fears are real and I am so sorry. I do, though, think we need to better understand Trump voters and, in turn, 25% of my fellow Americans.

Included in this list of good post-election think pieces:

This line from Ball’s post was especially thought provoking, “Voters were offered a choice between a possibility of catastrophe in Trump and a guarantee of mediocrity in Clinton. Clearly, they picked the high-risk bet that they felt at least gave them some chance to escape the certain economic doom that they feel in their current lives.”

I highly recommend you read the above stories to better understand why so many Americans voted for Trump.

I also want you to start thinking about where you get your news and how much you should trust it — because appears to be a secondary cause for our partisan issues.

The Rise of Fake News on Facebook

There’s another angle for why Trump got elected that hasn’t been talked about as much and it is terrifying: Fake partisan news is spreading like wildfire on Facebook.

The Guardian wrote about it last week in “Facebook’s Failure: Did Fake News and Polarized Politics Get Trump Elected?

So did Business Insider: Obama: Fake News on Facebook Creating a Dust Cloud of Nonsense.”

The articles are worth reading in their entirety, but I can provide the highlights.

For instance, did you know that it can take 13 hours for a fake news story to get taken down? I certainly don’t go back to old articles I’ve read – do you?

According to Pew Research, 44% of Americans get their news on Facebook. That’s nearly half. Are you sensing the danger yet?

Analysis at BuzzFeed found that 38% of posts shared from three large rightwing politics pages on Facebook included “false or misleading information.”

That would likely explain how many conservatives believe that Hillary actually called for Obama’s assassination. Or that she’s led to confirmed kills of 40+ of former associates. It’s pretty ludicrous from my vantage point, but it’s real to those who read it.

Fake News Isn’t A Republican Problem

Lest you think this is a Republican problem, three large leftwing pages did the same 19% of the time. There’s a meme going around with a supposed quote from Donald Trump about why he ran for office that I readily believed before seeing it later questioned:

 

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I saw it and without a second thought, assumed it was real. It’s not. Just ask Snopes.

A Facebook friend just posted about Donald Trump raising a LGBT for Trump Rainbow flag high at a rally last week in Colorado. It surely doesn’t diminish his VP’s anti-gay sentiments and legislation, but it’s the tiniest glimmer of hope for Trump. And yet, it wasn’t covered in any major news outlet I’ve read.

Beyond that, stories that are 18-months old are being shared like they were published yesterday; the media needs to date their stories better for clarity and to avoid inducing panic.

Facebook Needs To Do Better to Verify Media Stories

Meanwhile, Facebook (and other social media platforms) need to take more responsibility for the content they deliver. At the end of the day, they are media sites, even if they have nary a journalist on staff.

Perhaps, they can give questionable stories a different color until verified so that people can consume them at their own risk. Perhaps, they go a step further and make media outlets earn the right to be shared on Facebook – they make media (and bloggers) prove their claims first and be shared second.

This issue isn’t going away, even if Zuckerberg is downplaying it. He claims that 99% of media seen on Facebook is accurate, which as a survey group of 1, I can assuredly say is false.

Note that Zuckerberg doesn’t say anything about how Facebook’s billion-dollar algorithm affects partisan politics; We read something tilted in one direction and then are fed further pieces of heightening extremism until that’s all we see.

In addition to staying vigilant truthfully covering our president-elect’s words and actions, we must also put Facebook’s feet to the fire to do better.

Until then, we the reader must take more responsibility across the board. Don’t just believe something because it confirms a viewpoint you already have. Make the story earn your trust.

 

 

 

 

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