“Trump won because of Facebook”. A statement that has made the headlines in the last 24 hours on news outlets everywhere, from The Guardian to nymag.com:“The most obvious way in which Facebook enabled a Trump victory has been its inability (or refusal) to address the problem of hoax or fake news”.
According to TechCrunch, the issue of spreading misinformation on the social media platform is real and was admitted by Adam Mosseri, VP of product management at Facebook, who conceded that “the company does need to do more to tackle this problem”. Later, Zuckerberg denied that this phenomena had an influence on getting Trump elected: “To think it influenced the election in any way is a pretty crazy idea,” he said Thursday evening during the Techonomy conference in Half Moon Bay, Calif, cited by USA Today.
But does the spread of fake news constitute a serious problem for Facebook, for us Internet users or for society as a whole? It most certainly does, and – by great coincidence – I was writing on this exact topic 3 days ago: Can algorithms automatically determine the trustworthiness of news stories? Now, even more, I strongly think they should!
Facebook has become the most important social media news distribution channel, according to the 2016 Digital News Report, with the percentage of readers going to Facebook to get their daily dose of news increasing in the younger segments. Facebook has had some issues in the past with its human news curation team, accused of altering the Trending section of Facebook news in favor of Hillary Clinton. A team of 18 people was laid off, leaving algorithms to do the job instead, which quickly became overwhelmed by the huge amount of fake news or pain hoaxes “clogging” up Facebook News.
Well, if this isn’t the “information overload” slash “infobesity” slash “infoxication” predicted by writer Alvin Toffler in the 1970 book Future Shock, then I don’t know what it is!
The good news is that now people are aware of the problem and its possible society-changing influences. Facebook is aware of it, Google News – with its new fact checking feature – is aware of it. We have spam filters on our email, why wouldn’t we have spam filters on every day news stories? It’s a concept I love so dear, even more because I’m preparing for an early 2017 launch of the only online service that can determine the trustworthiness of news stories automatically, called TrustServista: www.trustservista.com
I bet Facebook is working on something similar as we speak, which is the best thing that can happen to a disruptive product that comes out of nowhere (aka Romania); it means we will measure our solution against the best there is. However, I don’y believe that Facebook will be transparent about how it will filter out fake news; on the contrary, TrustServista will expose all the inner workings of its algorithm, so that the human reviewer can ultimately decide on the trustworthiness of news stories.