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Fake news, Facebook, and the rabid right


In a recent New York Times piece entitled “Mark Zuckerberg Is in Denial,” Zeynep Tufekci, a scholar who examines how technology impacts politics, shows how pervasive fake news is on Facebook. Fake news is so prevalent, writes Tufekci, no only because people seek confirmation for their prejudices, but also because fake news is lucrative for advertisers and Facebook itself. Tufekci also debunks the notion that liberals rely on fake news just as much as conservatives: “There are, of course, viral fake anti-Trump memes, but reporters have found that the spread of false news is far more common on the right than it is on the left.”

Here’s an excerpt from the piece:

The problem with Facebook’s influence on political discourse is not limited to the dissemination of fake news. It’s also about echo chambers. The company’s algorithm chooses which updates appear higher up in users’ newsfeeds and which are buried. Humans already tend to cluster among like-minded people and seek news that confirms their biases. Facebook’s research shows that the company’s algorithm encourages this by somewhat prioritizing updates that users find comforting.

I’ve seen this firsthand. While many of my Facebook friends in the United States lean Democratic, I do have friends who voted for Mr. Trump. But I had to go hunting for their posts because Facebook’s algorithm almost never showed them to me; for whatever reason the algorithm wrongly assumed that I wasn’t interested in their views.

Content geared toward these algorithmically fueled bubbles is financially rewarding. That’s why YouTube has a similar feature in which it recommends videos based on what a visitor has already watched.

It’s also why, according to a report in BuzzFeed News, a bunch of young people in a town in Macedonia ran more than a hundred pro-Trump websites full of fake news. Their fabricated article citing anonymous F.B.I. sources claiming Hillary Clinton would be indicted, for example, got more than 140,000 shares on Facebook and may well have been viewed by millions of people since each share is potentially seen by hundreds of users. Even if each view generates only a fraction of a penny, that adds up to serious money.

Image of Mark Zuckerberg via NY Times.