Facebook or Fakebook? The Problem with Fake News

By Tracey Dowdy

Let’s play a game. How about “Two Truths and a Lie”? I’ll share three headlines from the last three months before the election and you decide which two are true and which one is a lie. Remember, all three are published news stories, but one is from a fake news site. Ready? Here we go:

A. “I Ran the C.I.A. Now I’m Endorsing Hilary Clinton”
B. “It’s Over: Hillary’s ISIS Email Just Leaked and It’s Worse Than Anyone Could Have Imagined”
C. “Trump Sees Dead People: Promises Crowd He’ll Bring Joe Paterno Back from the Grave”

So which headline is from a fake news story? It’s B – the headline from an article published by Ending the Fed, a site notorious for its completely unreliable content. In fact, Ending the Fed is responsible for four of the top ten fake election stories shared by users on Facebook.

So much fake news has been shared on Facebook that Paul Horner, the man who created an entire fake news empire on Facebook has stated, “I think Trump is in the White House because of me.” Turns out he’s not the only one that feels fake news had an impact on the election or that the amount of fake news being generated has risen exponentially in the past few months.

Brendan Nyhan, Professor of Political Science at Dartmouth College who researches political misinformation and fact-checking says, “I’m troubled that Facebook is doing so little to combat fake news…Even if they did not swing the election, the evidence is clear that bogus stories have incredible reach on the network. Facebook should be fighting misinformation, not amplifying it.”

Considering that over 60 percent of U.S. adults get at least some of their news from social media, there’s a huge amount of false information being shared and accepted at face value. “During these critical months of the campaign, 20 top-performing false election stories from hoax sites and hyper-partisan blogs generated 8,711,000 shares, reactions, and comments on Facebook. Within the same time period, the 20 best-performing election stories from 19 major news websites generated a total of 7,367,000 shares, reactions, and comments on Facebook.” (Buzzfeed, 2016).

Did you catch that? Fake news did better than real news among Facebook users.

When I was a kid, papers like the National Enquirer were the gold-standard of fake news. Bat Boy, Bigfoot and alien abductions were its stock in trade. The difference was we knew it was mostly fake with the occasional fact thrown in. Today, the fake news hides in plain sight, we just aren’t looking for it nor are we pushing back against it.

Mark Zuckerberg, CEO of Facebook, has stated he thinks fake news shared on Facebook had little effect on the election but nobody seems to be buying his position. In fact, it undermines his earlier claims that Facebook as a platform is an agent of change and has been influential on the world stage. Columbia University student Karen K. Ho tweeted, “Facebook and Twitter cannot take credit for changing the world during events like the Egyptian Uprising, then downplay their influence on elections.”

In response, five Facebook employees have launched their own investigation. “It’s not a crazy idea. What’s crazy is for him (Zuckerberg) to come out and dismiss it like that, when he knows,

and those of us at the company know, that fake news ran wild on our platform during the entire campaign season,” said one Facebook employee, who works in the social network’s engineering division.

Still, at the end of the day, Facebook is simply the vehicle. We are in the driver’s seat. If we want to stop the proliferation of fake news, it is our responsibility as news consumers to look to verifiable and legitimate sources and, for the love of all that’s good and right, don’t believe everything you read!

Tracey Dowdy is a freelance writer based just outside Washington DC. After years working for non-profits and charities, she now freelances, edits and researches on subjects ranging from family and education to history and trends in technology. Follow Tracey on Twitter.

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