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The Facebook fake news echo chamber forces that drove the 2016 election’s media failure are likely to get worse, by Nieman Journalism Lab

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Filter bubbles may have decided this election.

There’s plenty of blame to go around, but the list of actors has to start with Facebook. And for all its wonders — reaching nearly 2 billion people each month, driving more traffic and attention to news than anything else on earth — it’s also become a single point of failure for civic information. Our democracy has a lot of problems, but there are few things that could impact it for the better more than Facebook starting to care — really care — about the truthfulness of the news that its users share and take in. 

As BuzzFeed’s Craig Silverman has documented repeatedly — and as anyone who has spent much time on their relatives’ profile pages can probably attest — Facebook has become a sewer of misinformation. Some of it is driven by ideology, but a lot is driven purely by the economic incentive structure Facebook has created: The fake stuff, when it connects with a Facebook user’s preconceived notions or sense of identity, spreads like wildfire. (And it’s a lot cheaper to make than real news.)

One example: I’m from a small town in south Louisiana. The day before the election, I looked at the Facebook page of the current mayor. Among the items he posted there in the final 48 hours of the campaign: Hillary Clinton Calling for Civil War If Trump Is Elected. Pope Francis Shocks World, Endorses Donald Trump for President. Barack Obama Admits He Was Born in Kenya. FBI Agent Who Was Suspected Of Leaking Hillary’s Corruption Is Dead.

These are not legit anti-Hillary stories. (There were plenty of those, to be sure, both on his page and in this election cycle.) These are imaginary, made up, frauds. And yet Facebook has built a platform for the active dispersal of these lies — in part because these lies travel really, really well. (The pope’s “endorsement” has over 868,000 Facebook shares. The Snopes piece noting the story is fake has but 33,000.)

In a column just before the election, The New York Times’ Jim Rutenberg argued that “the cure for fake journalism is an overwhelming dose of good journalism.” I wish that were true, but I think the evidence shows that it’s not. There was an enormous amount of good journalism done on Trump and this entire election cycle, from both old-line giants like the Times and The Washington Post and digital natives like BuzzFeed and The Daily Beast. (There were plenty of good broadcast reporters on the beat as well, though what appeared on air left a lot to be desired.) For anyone who wanted to take it in, the pickings were rich.

The problem is that not enough people sought it out. And of those who did, not enough of them trusted it to inform their political decisions. And even for many of those, the good journalism was crowded out by the fragmentary glimpses of nonsense.

I used to be something of a skeptic when it came to claims of “filter bubbles” — the sort of epistemic closure that comes from only seeing material you agree with on social platforms. People tend to click links that align with their existing opinions, sure — but isn’t that just an online analog to the fact that our friends and family tend to share our opinions in the real world too? I ate up studies (from Facebook and others) that argued the site actually encouraged a certain kind of information diversity, because your Facebook friends are likely drawn from a wider group of people (the guy you went to middle school with, your mom’s neighbor, that rando you met that weekend at the beach) than the people you discuss news with in real life.

But I’ve come to think that the rise of fake news — and of the cheap-to-run, ideologically driven aggregator sites that are only a few steps up from fake — has weaponized those filter bubbles. There were just too many people voting in this election because they were infuriated by made-up things they read online.

(Speaking of filter bubbles: Even now, right after the election, my Facebook News Feed is filled with sad posts from my liberal friends from college or media. There are also happy posts from my relatives and friends in the South — but I have to hunt those out because Facebook’s algorithm isn’t putting them in my feed.)

What can Facebook do to fix this problem? There are ideas out there, many of them problematic in their own ways. One simple one would be to hire editors to manage what shows up in its Trending section — one major way misinformation gets spread. Facebook canned its Trending editors after it got pushback from conservatives; that was an act of cowardice, and since then, fake news stories have been algorithmically pushed out to millions with alarming frequency.


Tim O'Reilly on how Facebook can fix its feed by taking a Google approach:

Even Google getting fooled by fake news.

Fake news is not the problem, say Jessi Hempel and snopes:

"This is the state of truth on the internet in 2016, now that it is as easy for a Macedonian teenager to create a website as it is for The New York Times, and now that the information most likely to find a large audience is that which is most alarming, not most correct."


"The problem, Binkowski believes, is that the public has lost faith in the media broadly — therefore no media outlet is considered credible any longer. The reasons are familiar: as the business of news has grown tougher, many outlets have been stripped of the resources they need for journalists to do their jobs correctly. “When you’re on your fifth story of the day and there’s no editor because the editor’s been fired and there’s no fact checker so you have to Google it yourself and you don’t have access to any academic journals or anything like that, you will screw stories up,” she says."

Corrections don't get noticed. 

Ev Williams on fake news:

ev williams Facebook fake news meme


I found it interesting that when I went to read Zuckerberg’s post about misinformation, there were two ads on the side that are super fake.

Despite appearances, the first one doesn’t point to It goes to and attempts to sell a muscle-building supplement using ESPN branding and a fake news story.

The CNN-branded ad goes to less work. It just takes you to a site called Fine the Racers with an exclusive offer for a 12-week program to strengthen your toes (?).


How the Trump campaign used Facebook ads to suppress voters:

Smells like a smoking gun.

So many things had to happen for Trump to win:

1. Voter rights act consequences for suppression

2. Facebook ads used to suppress votes

3. Fake news echo chambers

4. FBI Director Comey email announcements not once but twice within two weeks of election

5. Russian intervention

6. Wikileaks intervention

7. Silicon Valley disrupting jobs -- see Om Malik on empathy in the New Yorker:

8. Jill Stein voters in battleground states

Walt Mossberg says it's time for Facebook to take ownership:

But Does Facebook generate half its revenue from fake news ads?

Did fake news affect the election? “Facebook stumbled into the news business without systems, editorial frameworks and editorial guidelines, and now it’s trying to course-correct.” ~ Claire Wardle, research director at the Tow Center for Digital Journalism


Mark Zuckerberg thinks fake news did not affect the election:

The New York Times disagrees:

Scott Adams on how Trump becomes president:

How the votes went:

2012: Obama 65.4M, 60.5 Romney

2016: Clinton 59.3M (-6.1M), Trump 59.1M (-1.4M) [with 98% reporting]

Just 107,000 people in 8 counties in Pennsylvania, Wisconsin, and Michigan swayed the election:

"The vote was decided by fewer the 75,000 votes in Wisconsin, Michigan, and Pennsylvania."

Most undercovered story of 2016: today is 1st presidential election in 50 years without full protections of Voting Rights Act:

On Trump: The press takes him literally, but not seriously; his supporters take him seriously, but not literally.

"Identifying the truth is complicated." ~Mark Zuckerberg, November 13, 2016

Less than a month later, Facebook clamps down on fake news.

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