If there’s one thing that America learned in this election, it’s this: a lot of information on the internet isn’t that accurate.
Granted, for many people, “inaccurate” means “this doesn’t fit the narrow hyperpartisan narrative in my brain”. Even now, media companies are getting a lot of flak from some liberals over their inaccurate and dishonest coverage of Donald Trump because they refer to him as “President-Elect Trump” and not “Fucking White Supremacist Nazi Batshit Insane Fascist Motherfucker Who Lost The Fucking Popular Vote Fake Fucking Not My President Trump”.
Anyway, now we’re hearing a lot about “fake news” on social media – especially Facebook –and to what extent this may have influenced the election.
Mark Zuckerberg hilariously tried to pretend the whole thing was overblown, since “fake news” accounts for a tiny percentage of what pops up on Facebook newsfeeds. Then Buzzfeed demonstrated that it’s not about percentages – it’s about eyeballs, and fake news stories on FB got plenty more of them than real news did.
The problem is also likely underestimated in terms of what counts as “fake news”.
Many people point to that kid in Macedonia
working for Wikileaks or Vlad Putin, etc. But how about The Onion (which is satire, I know, but you’d be surprised how many people don’ know that
)? Or how about stories from hyperpartisan sites like Breitbart or Addicting Info that are so blatantly one-sided that they might as well be fake? Or conspiracy/rumor sites like Infowars and Drudge? And are we including all those political meme graphics
with info that usually is at best misleading and at worst completely false (making them the FB/Twitter equivalent of chain emails)?
And so on.
Once you factor all of that in – as well as the statistic that 62% of Americans get their news from social media
(to include Facebook, Twitter and Reddit) – then I would argue that “fake news” was indeed a fairly big factor in this election.
That said, I would add further that I don’t think it influenced the actual outcome
. Or at least there’s no evidence of this yet. I do think that at a minimum, it served to reinforce the batshit reality bubbles that the hardcore left/right bases tend to live in already.
Which does raise a valid question: if fake news is the problem, is it the fault of Facebook, Twitter, Reddit etc for not doing enough to flag it, or is it the fault of the gullible and narrow-minded people who believe this tripe and can’t be bothered to fact-check it?
Either way, people are demanding the social media sites do something about it. M. Zuckerberg says he’s working on it
Interestingly, four university kids claim to have solved the whole problem with a Chrome browser extension called “News Feed authenticity checker” which they whacked together in about 36 hours, according to Business Insider
"It classifies every post, be it pictures (Twitter snapshots), adult content pictures, fake links, malware links, fake news links as verified or non-verified using artificial intelligence.
"For links, we take into account the website's reputation, also query it against malware and phishing websites database and also take the content, search it on Google/Bing, retrieve searches with high confidence and summarize that link and show to the user. For pictures like Twitter snapshots, we convert the image to text, use the usernames mentioned in the tweet, to get all tweets of the user and check if current tweet was ever posted by the user."
The plug-in even adds a tag saying whether the story is verified. The students have released the extension as an open-source project for other developers to tweak.
Certainly Facebook should be able to think of an algorithm-based solution – Google did something similar to deal with webspam content farms. But as this Vox article argues
, it’s not a choice between algorithms or humans to vet fake news – you’ll probably need both.
On a side note, Facebook, YouTube, Twitter and Microsoft have agreed to create a shared database that allows them to ID and flag extremist content
By “extremist” they mainly mean Islamic State and its supporters, but I suppose it could also be applied to, say, white supremacist/anti-Semitic groups who seem to be enjoying themselves at the moment. I wonder how far they’ll take that – does Trump count as an extremist? Does #NotMyPresident count? Will any stories reporting what Trump says be flagged as extremist?
I wrote a song about political memes being as bad as fake news, you know. Go like this:
Lie to me,
This is dF