Facebook’s Futile Attempt to Curb Fake News

by Jim Geraghty

Making the click-through worthwhile: Why social media companies like Facebook can’t stop “fake news”; Roy Moore’s latest bold gambit to embarrass himself and his supporters; and an unexpected about-face from the Trump team about a former key supporter.

Why Social Media Companies Can’t Stop ‘Fake News’

Right before the holiday, Guy Benson noted that two widely spread viral tweets about the tax reform bill were flat-out false. The first, from actress Jenna Fischer, contended that because of the GOP-supported tax reform, “school teachers can no longer deduct the cost of their classroom supplies on their taxes.”

Cut Fischer a little bit of slack; she eventually corrected her assertion and offered a lengthy apology. Her information was outdated; the House version of the bill would indeed have eliminated the $250 deductions that teachers could take for purchasing school supplies for their students. A short time earlier, it was a fair complaint; the final version of the bill kept the deduction intact, however. Still, her original complaining Tweet was retweeted at least 46,000 times; her apology was retweeted 3,600 times.

The second, from a now-deleted Twitter account called “@Sykotik_Dreams” — declared, “My wife’s friend just received a letter from Medicaid and Social Security saying her severely disabled autistic 7 year old son just lost his healthcare and benefits. The letter states that it’s due to your #TaxScamBill. It’s 3 days before Christmas you [bad word] [bad word]!!” This, too, was retweeted more than 46,000 times before it was deleted.

Everyone should have smelled “lie” coming off this one. Nothing in the tax bill affected Medicaid and Social Security benefits decisions. The tweet was written on December 22, and the final version of the bill passed the House of Representatives on December 20. A decision like that almost certainly would have been reached, and the letter drafted, before passage of the final legislation. The individual sharing the story offered no further illuminating details — which agency wrote the letter, any justification, or anyone who could be reached to verify the claim.

“Fake news” doesn’t just come from Moscow or Lithuanian server farms. It comes anytime someone offers something false, inaccurate, or deeply misleading, and people choose to believe it and spread it to their friends. In many cases, those who spread it and amplify it want it to be true, because it confirms part of their previous worldview. If you hate Republicans, you want to believe that their tax bill is doing nothing but terrible things to good people, that it’s living up to Nancy Pelosi’s label of “Armageddon,” and that it’s taking away health care from innocent 7-year-old autistic boys. If this dire scenario is true, it means you, the good outspoken liberal who keeps berating your relatives for their intolerably retrograde political views at Thanksgiving, is a hero, and your relatives are monsters for disagreeing with you.

Who’s to blame for fake news, the creators or those segments of the public who choose to believe it?

Facebook just learned the hard way that labeling something “fake news” does not erode the audience or appetite for that information.

Today, we’re announcing two changes which we believe will help in our fight against false news. First, we will no longer use Disputed Flags to identify false news. Instead we’ll use Related Articles to help give people more context about the story. Here’s why.

Academic research on correcting misinformation has shown that putting a strong image, like a red flag, next to an article may actually entrench deeply held beliefs – the opposite effect to what we intended. Related Articles, by contrast, are simply designed to give more context, which our research has shown is a more effective way to help people get to the facts. Indeed, we’ve found that when we show Related Articles next to a false news story, it leads to fewer shares than when the Disputed Flag is shown.

Second, we are starting a new initiative to better understand how people decide whether information is accurate or not based on the news sources they depend upon. This will not directly impact News Feed in the near term. However, it may help us better measure our success in improving the quality of information on Facebook over time.

Let me help you understand how people decide whether information is accurate or not, Facebook. A great many people have strong belief systems, and at the core of those strong belief systems is the idea that they are good and people who disagree are bad; alternately, my tribe is good and the other tribes are bad. If new information comes along and appears to confirm that they and their tribe are good, or that the other tribes are bad, then they choose to believe it. If new information comes along and appears to confirm that they and their tribe are bad, or that the other tribes are good, they will declare the information false.

Roy Moore Hasn’t Finished Embarrassing Himself and His State Yet

Speaking of fake news, Roy Moore claims that Senator-elect Doug Jones’ 20,000-vote margin of victory is a result of voter fraud.

Moore and his campaign filed a complaint in the Circuit Court of Montgomery, Alabama, listing several allegations and called for “a new special election.”

His complaint alleges that out-of-state residents had been allowed to vote and that election fraud experts had concluded through statistical analyses that fraud had taken place. One of the election experts Moore cites is Richard Charnin, who also posts about JFK conspiracy theories and the murder of DNC staffer, Seth Rich.

Moore’s complaint also alleged “anomalous” higher voter turnout in Jefferson County, in which census data shows 43% of the population is black. He called the county’s 47% voter turnout as “highly unusual” and questioned the integrity of its election results.

Statewide turnout was 40 percent, so the 47 percent turnout in the most heavily-populated county, where the Jones campaign no doubt focused their get-out-the-vote efforts, isn’t all that “highly unusual” at all.

You will recall that first Roy Moore claimed that the military ballots that had yet to arrive and the provisional balance could make a difference in that 20,000-vote margin. I pointed out that the math simply didn’t add up; Moore needed roughly half the combined military personnel in Alabama to be deployed overseas, for all of them to have voted in this election, and for him to have won all of their votes just to reach the automatic recount threshold, never mind win.

Then the Alabama Secretary of State announced that 366 military ballots had been returned by the deadline. Then, out of 4,967 provisional ballots, just 2,888 were accepted.

None of Moore’s new complaints will matter:

Alabama Secretary of State John Merrill confirmed Thursday morning that Democrat Doug Jones will be certified the winner of the Alabama special Senate election despite Republican Roy Moore’s refusal to concede and request for a new election.

[Sad trombone noise.]

He’ll just keep finding new excuses for being the worst Senate candidate in modern history.

Brace Yourself, You Can Get Whiplash from this Change in Perspective on Flynn

Oh . . . now the Trump team tells us that Michael Flynn is an unreliable liar.

President Trump’s legal team plans to cast former national security adviser Michael T. Flynn as a liar seeking to protect himself if he accuses the president or his senior aides of any wrongdoing, according to three people familiar with the strategy.

The approach would mark a sharp break from Trump’s previously sympathetic posture toward Flynn, whom he called a “wonderful man” when Flynn was ousted from the White House in February. Earlier this month, the president did not rule out a possible pardon for Flynn, who is cooperating with special counsel Robert S. Mueller III’s investigation into Russian interference in the 2016 election.

Who’s worse, the liar or the man who hires a liar to handle the country’s national security?

Who’s worse, the liar, or the man who gives a presidential pardon to a liar?

ADDENDA: John Micek kindly mentions “The Morning Jolt” in his end-of-the-year roundup declaring, 2017 to be “the year that email news digests really seem to have come into their own.”

Jack Hunter: “You can’t complain about governments not raising the minimum wage and then get mad when some private corporations do it on their own.”

The Morning Jolt

By Jim Geraghty