Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg is desperately trying to defend his company amidst reports that they allowed fake news stories that helped Donald Trump on their site in order to avoid offending their conservative users.
"After the election, many people are asking whether fake news contributed to the result, and what our responsibility is to prevent fake news from spreading," Zuckerberg wrote on a Facebook post Saturday night. After claiming that "more than 99% of what people see is authentic" and that "the hoaxes that do exist are not limited to one partisan view, or even to politics," he conceded that "we don't want any hoaxes on Facebook. Our goal is to show people the content they will find most meaningful, and people want accurate news. We have already launched work enabling our community to flag hoaxes and fake news, and there is more we can do here. We have made progress, and we will continue to work on this to improve further."
Zuckerberg hedged his bets when it came to taking a more aggressive stance blocking fake news from his site, from which 44 percent of Americans got their news.
"This is an area where I believe we must proceed very carefully though," Zuckerberg continued. "Identifying the 'truth' is complicated. While some hoaxes can be completely debunked, a greater amount of content, including from mainstream sources, often gets the basic idea right but some details wrong or omitted. An even greater volume of stories express an opinion that many will disagree with and flag as incorrect even when factual. 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."
According to a report on Monday by Gizmodo, however, Facebook has not been nearly as certain that it's doing all it can to fight news fraud as Zuckerberg's letter implied.
"According to two sources with direct knowledge of the company’s decision-making, Facebook executives conducted a wide-ranging review of products and policies earlier this year, with the goal of eliminating any appearance of political bias," Gizmodo writes. "One source said high-ranking officials were briefed on a planned News Feed update that would have identified fake or hoax news stories, but disproportionately impacted right-wing news sites by downgrading or removing that content from people’s feeds. According to the source, the update was shelved and never released to the public. It’s unclear if the update had other deficiencies that caused it to be scrubbed."
The article includes a source who cites the "Trending Topics" controversy from May as a major reason why Facebook hasn't done more to fight fake news stories, a claim that also appeared in a New York Times report on Saturday. This refers to the discovery that human "curators" rather than an impartial algorithm had been used to determine which stories appeared on the site's news feed, with one former curator claiming that conservative stories were often suppressed. Although Facebook initially denied the allegations, they eventually fired the entire trending news team, which resulted in fake news stories becoming more likely to trend on the website.
In an emailed statement to Gizmodo, Facebook denied the rumors that it had given a free pass to right-wing propaganda out of fear of retribution.
"We did not build and withhold any News Feed changes based on their potential impact on any one political party," the statement claimed. "We always work to make News Feed more meaningful and informative, and that includes examining the quality and accuracy of items shared, such as clickbait, spam and hoaxes. Mark himself said, “I want to do everything I can to make sure our teams uphold the integrity of our products.” This includes continuously reviewing updates to make sure we are not exhibiting unconscious bias."