Facebook’s Trending Algorithm Promotes Fake News Stories
The social networking site has received a lot of criticism recently for its encouragement of fake news sources — sources that may have influenced the election.
Over the past year, fake news stories have gained in popularity. This is partially due to the sharing nature of Facebook. Facebook’s algorithm currently promotes stories that are trending or may be of interest to you. If you’re more interested in receiving notifications about what a friend posts as opposed to a family member, then you’ll see less notifications from that family member, for example.
Further, Facebook learns what you like and dislike, and since it wants to show you stories or news you might like, the social network is more inclined to show you similar articles. Unfortunately, these stories can be factual or false. But you trust an article your friend shared, right? The point is that Facebook wants you to have a positive experience so that you engage with the website and spend more time on it — they don’t care about what you read. Many users might not care about the facts either, or don’t want to take the time to research a claim: they want to read a story that confirms their existing beliefs. This has all contributed to fake news stories being shared at an alarming level.
Did Fake News Sites Impact the US Election?
The answer is, to quote a Facebook relationship status: “It’s complicated.” Mark Zuckerberg claims that Facebook didn’t have an impact on the outcome of the election, despite the fact that a large number of users (almost half) consume all of their news on Facebook. To ignore that, along with the rise in popularity of fake news sites on Facebook, is absurd. There are also many valid criticisms as to how major news networks handled the election. To ignore their impact on the election, and their lack of real news coverage, would also be absurd.
Nonetheless, these are only contributing factors in a much larger issue: a lack of education and critical thinking skills. With well-developed critical thinking skills, individuals can evaluate a variety of news sources, fact-check them on their own, and draw their own conclusions, as opposed to solely seeking out sources that confirm their existing beliefs or suspicions.
How to Address Fake News
Recently, Facebook and Google have vowed to crack down on fake news sites by banning them from their advertising network. Of course, this should help, but it is not enough. If Facebook and Google want to discourage the spread of fake news, then they need to make more of an effort. One option is for both sites to list whether or not an article is verified. While this is a great idea in theory, it might not change the minds of those who distrust mainstream media, the Internet in general, and online journalism.