The Corner

Culture

Fake News and the Integrity of Facebook’s Product

In response to Who’s Afraid of Christians?

In the matter of Goldberg v. Geraghty, I view things a bit differently. It’s in Facebook’s best interests to weed out and crack down on “fake news,” but only if it’s done transparently and according to published criteria (perhaps even with an appeal to an independent board). Facebook and Twitter have a long-term commercial problem if their outlets become known as online garbage dumps — where no one can trust content, and everyone competes for “virality” over all else. The desire for virality breeds sensationalism, and over time sensationalism breeds mistrust.

Twitter is well down that path already, mainly because it combines two kinds of garbage — viral nonsense and vicious vitriol. Facebook has less of a problem with harassment, but I see fake stories sometimes jamming my own news feed. I’ve seen friends fall for bogus “scoops.” I agree with Jonah that “fake news” properly defined represents sites that “deliberately and knowingly make stuff up and exploit social media for clicks and profit,” and I believe there’s some easy, low-hanging fruit to pluck.

As a general rule, people don’t like being lied to. They don’t like platforms that traffic in lies, and they feel angry and embarrassed when they find out that they’ve been had. None of that is good for Facebook — especially when it’s already struggling to attract younger eyeballs. 

It’s not in Facebook’s best interests to alienate large sections of the country by abusing the fake news controversy to suppress ideas on the right, either. Facebook is a liberal-dominated company, so the temptation will exist. Diversifying its workforce could ease some of the concerns, but in the absence of a perfect social media company, we need to rely on the messiness of the market. Ultimately, Facebook is going to have to lurch towards a solution that limits truly fake news while respecting the marketplace of ideas — not so much because its principles are pure but because the market will demand it.