In this election, lies sometimes seemed to carry as much weight as facts. You’d see a story declaring that Hillary Clinton sold weapons to ISIS (false, obviously) trending right alongside one about Barbara Bush urging female voters not to vote for Trump (true).
Ever since Donald Trump won, Facebook has been under fire for failing to do more to curb false information from dominating the social network. After CEO Mark Zuckerberg brushed off the accusation that his company helped put Trump in power, some of his employees pushed back, forming, according to Buzzfeed, “an unofficial task force to question the role their company played in promoting fake news in the lead-up to Donald Trump’s victory.”
As to Facebook’s being to blame for putting a reality TV star in the Oval Office, NSA whistleblower Edward Snowden said Tuesday at Fusion’s Real Future Fair that it would be “a very sad indictment of our democracy, that our voters could be so easily misled.” But he then went on to say that the degree to which we’re relying on Facebook for our news is dangerous (33:15-36:50):
“We have one company that has the ability to reshape the way we think. I don’t think I need to describe how dangerous that is,” Snowden told Real Future Editor Kashmir Hill.
On Wednesday, a BuzzFeed analysis demonstrated exactly why we shouldn’t turn to Facebook for our entire media diet.
“In the final three months of the US presidential campaign, the top-performing fake election news stories on Facebook generated more engagement than the top stories from major news outlets such as the New York Times, Washington Post, Huffington Post, NBC News, and others,” wrote BuzzFeed reporter Craig Silverman.
As we drew closer to election day, in other words, viral fake news outperformed viral real news.
Earlier this year, Buzzfeed discovered that teens in Macedonia, for example, had created more than 100 pro-Trump websites publishing fake news stories that were achieving incredible popularity on Facebook.
The problem, Snowden reminded us, isn’t just that Facebook has failed to cull fake posts from its stream; it’s that we as users have given Facebook too much power over what we read.
“This gets into a bigger challenge which is the lack of competition, the fact that there seems to be no alternative to the largest services,” he said. “Once [companies] have gotten so big that no one can stop them…they get less careful.”