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Facebook's Fight Against Fake News Was Undercut by Fear of Conservative Backlash (gizmodo.com) 470

Facebook has been concerned about fake news stories that circulate on its social platform and how often such incidents occur. The company has had high-level internal debates over the matter since May, discussing different options to curb movements of hoax and false stories. Gizmodo reports Monday that Facebook executives conducted a wide-ranging review of products and policies earlier this year with "the goal of eliminating any appearance of political bias." The company even had a major update for the News Feed planned which could have supposedly filtered fake stories, but the update never saw the light of the day because it was afraid to use it. From the report:One source said high-ranking officials were briefed on a planned News Feed update that would have identified fake or hoax news stories, but disproportionately impacted right-wing news sites by downgrading or removing that content from people's feeds. According to the source, the update was shelved and never released to the public. It's unclear if the update had other deficiencies that caused it to be scrubbed. "They absolutely have the tools to shut down fake news," said the source, who asked to remain anonymous citing fear of retribution from the company. The source added, "there was a lot of fear about upsetting conservatives after Trending Topics," and that "a lot of product decisions got caught up in that." In an emailed statement, Facebook did not answer Gizmodo's direct questions about whether the company built a News Feed update that was capable of identifying fake or hoax news stories, nor whether such an update would disproportionately impact right-wing or conservative-leaning sites. Instead, Facebook said it "did not build and withhold any News Feed changes based on their potential impact on any one political party."
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Facebook's Fight Against Fake News Was Undercut by Fear of Conservative Backlash

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  • by tripleevenfall ( 1990004 ) on Monday November 14, 2016 @02:02PM (#53282645)

    If they hadn't been rigging the news feeds and injecting their own bias, they wouldn't have gotten into this mess.

    • by presidenteloco ( 659168 ) on Monday November 14, 2016 @02:10PM (#53282713)

      I on the other hand, have no fear of conservative backlash,
      so I am happy to recycle this dated but completely true news story:

      http://www.theonion.com/graphi... [theonion.com]

      • Re: (Score:2, Funny)

        by Stormwatch ( 703920 )

        The Onion is co-owned by Univision Communications... whose chairman Haim Saban juuust happens to be the Clintons' biggest individual financial backer.

        • by suutar ( 1860506 )

          and this brings to mind a question I've been wondering for a while. At this point, is there _any_ source which both sides would accept as authoritative? If not, it's gonna be pretty durn hard to confirm or refute anything to the opposition's satisfaction, which puts a serious dent in the ability to reconcile...

    • by Tailhook ( 98486 ) on Monday November 14, 2016 @02:12PM (#53282727)

      The operative phrase in this story is "after Trending Topics." They got caught grooming their feed through an SJW filter. The backlash they felt was well deserved and their caution since is wise.

      Is this "fake news" meme anything more than progressive echo chamber stuff? I saw plenty of pure anti-Trump bullshit polluting Facebook before the election.

      • Is this "fake news" meme anything more than progressive echo chamber stuff? I saw plenty of pure anti-Trump bullshit polluting Facebook before the election.

        Wait, so you doubt that there's fake news on Facebook, and as evidence you cite the fact that you saw a lot of anti-Trump fake news? Wouldn't that still be fake news?

  • Fake stories like... (Score:3, Informative)

    by trg83 ( 555416 ) on Monday November 14, 2016 @02:03PM (#53282653)
    Reporting that HRC had the election win all sewn up?
    • by Tablizer ( 95088 ) on Monday November 14, 2016 @02:17PM (#53282799) Journal

      ...reporting that HRC had the election win all sewn up?

      The pollsters used the same techniques they did as before with reasonable success. McCain and Mitt's results pretty much matched them. The problem is that Trump is not a normal candidate and that surveyee's didn't react to him like they did a normal candidate. He's thrown monkey wrenches into a lot things (for good or bad).

      There was no reason for DNC to manipulate the polls. A close election produces more turn-out, which is what they wanted. If anything, the bad polls hurt Hillary rather than Trump.

      • by trg83 ( 555416 ) on Monday November 14, 2016 @02:25PM (#53282871)
        I am in no way alleging that the DNC manipulated polls. My observation is more that the fawning media always interpreted every poll within or near the margin of error as a win for Clinton. I think the DNC proved to be self-defeating and blundering more so than dishonest, but the media showed a lot of bias this time around, IMHO. I think they're going to spend a long time earning trust back. Not a Trump supporter here, by the way.
        • by Tablizer ( 95088 )

          My observation is more that the fawning media always interpreted every poll within or near the margin of error as a win for Clinton.

          I followed many of the polls also, and they indeed seemed to lean toward a Clinton win. It was a valid interpretation based on the numbers.

          Overseas betting sites, such as Paddy Power, showed about a 3-to-1 advantage for Clinton. Those betting are putting their money on the line and won't generally rely on superficial interpretations of polls. And most are overseas such that pol

          • Overseas betting sites ... They are gamblers, not partisans.

            But, judging by post-election interviews, seems a lot of the US electorate are both.

        • It's not just that, it's also that everybody, be it media or pollsters, were so arrogant in their attitudes towards Trump supporters that they got the bird from them while doing surveys. There ain't a good way to predict the reaction of people who refuse to be surveyed.

          I for one am glad that I ignored much of the news in the last few days of the campaign. Even FNC was insufferable, w/ their tiresome what-if games, and even Hannity getting into it. The only 2 who got it right were Newt and Huckabee, the

          • by budgenator ( 254554 ) on Monday November 14, 2016 @05:25PM (#53284569) Journal

            Between the UAW and Wayne/Oakland/Macomb Counties, Democrats are used to having Michigan handed to them on a Silver Platter, it didn't happen. The Unions are losing their sway over voters and Trumps mantra of Unfair trade deals really resonate. A lot of minority voters are still smarting from Kwame Kilpatrick [wikipedia.org], and the Bipartisan involvement in the Flint Water Crisis, and I believe this played a part in sensitising them to Trumps "What have you got to lose" message as well.

        • The pollsters assumed that the Obama voting patterns would persist, and that was the failure. If there was a bias, it was a bias based on the last two or three elections.

      • by Holi ( 250190 )
        When you plaster all over the front page that HRC has a 97% chance to win the White House, the only person you are going to hurt is Hillary, people will relax and figure it's in the bag so why bother voting.
        • by stdarg ( 456557 )

          That could go either way. Maybe the media was trying to demoralize Trump supporters by showing that their vote was useless.

          I know that at 7:45pm or so (EST), I turned on the news and say that Clinton was winning North Carolina (where I live), and I thought oh shit, why did I even bother going to vote today, they were right and this is going to be a landslide for Clinton.

          You know something very odd? I checked the official NC election results website, which was updated pretty often (maybe once a minute), and

  • by JoeyRox ( 2711699 ) on Monday November 14, 2016 @02:04PM (#53282667)
    Reminds me of Steven Colbert's brilliant Correspondents' Dinner performance, which included gems like "Reality has a well-known liberal bias".
    • by sinij ( 911942 )

      "Reality has a well-known liberal bias".

      Not this past election.

      • by JoeyRox ( 2711699 ) on Monday November 14, 2016 @02:23PM (#53282843)
        There's a difference between being wrong and intentionally publishing fake and misleading information. Plus the fact that Hillary won the popular vote (by +650K votes and still counting) just demonstrateshow hard it is to call an election when there are several swing-state votes in the electoral college.
        • Re: (Score:2, Insightful)

          by Anonymous Coward

          650k votes is minuscule compared to the overal vote totals 121M+

          Just because she got 2.5million more votes than Trump in California is not enough to use the popular vote as some sort of vindication.

        • by AthanasiusKircher ( 1333179 ) on Monday November 14, 2016 @03:07PM (#53283319)

          Plus the fact that Hillary won the popular vote (by +650K votes and still counting)

          I really wish people would stop talking about this. I'm NOT a Trump supporter, but talking about the popular vote is emphasizing an irrelevant aspect of the data given how our system is set up.

          Trump and Clinton did NOT campaign to win the popular vote. If they were doing so, they likely would have skipped rallies in many "swing states" and instead held them in places more likely to get out the maximum votes for their side. That could have led to a very different popular vote split.

          It's kinda like playing a game of Monopoly and losing but saying, "But, but I had more properties! I should win! I had more properties!" Except Monopoly isn't about accumulating the most property, it's about accumulating more money and bankrupting the opponent. Those are the rules of the game. If you want to play by different rules, fine... but that's a different game. The US election is set up one way, and the candidates "played" to win by those rules (i.e., Electoral College).

          By the way, I'm not defending the Electoral College either, and there are legitimate reasons to get rid of it. But the mismatch here isn't really a strong argument -- if you believe that campaigns and rallies and advertisements have ANY effect on voter turnout, then there's absolutely no guarantee that the numbers would have been the same if the candidates were trying to win the popular vote and made campaign choices based on that.

          • I don't disagree with anything you wrote. I only made the point about the popular vote in the context of how difficult it is to call a close election when more people voted for the candidate who lost.
          • by iMadeGhostzilla ( 1851560 ) on Monday November 14, 2016 @04:55PM (#53284279)

            Here's an excellent explanation why the system was set up to have an electoral college: https://geopoliticalfutures.co... [geopoliticalfutures.com]

            "The United States is a geopolitical invention. The 13 original colonies were very different from each other. As the nation expanded westward, even more exotic states became part of the union. Constantly alienating smaller states through indifference could undermine the national interest. The Senate and the electoral college both stop that from happening, or at least limit it. Any state can matter in any election.

            You might charge that this is undemocratic. It is. It was intended to be. The founders did not create a direct democracy for a good reason. It would have prevented the United States from emerging as a stable union. They created a republican form of government based on representation and a federal system based on sovereign states. Because of that, a candidate who ignores or insults the “flyover” states is likely to be writing memoirs instead of governing."

    • Re: (Score:2, Troll)

      by meta-monkey ( 321000 )

      Something only a liberal would think. Reality has a fascist bias. All your feely-good hugbox ideas don't mean a thing when the Islamist comes to saw off your head.

      • Re: (Score:2, Informative)

        Radical Islamic Terror in the US is very rare - even if we include the outlier of 9-11.

        Meanwhile, an anti-Semite has been appointed to Chief Strategist and hate crimes are on the rise. As a Jew, do you really think I should be more afraid of Muslims than of someone who hates Jews whispering in the President's ear?

        • Re: (Score:2, Informative)

          by meta-monkey ( 321000 )

          Bannon's not an anti-semite. And what's on the rise is leftist rioters beating people and setting fires in the streets. If Hillary had won and Trump supporters were doing this shit you'd be calling for drone strikes. Oh and most of those "hate crimes" are hoaxes. No Trump supporter is spray painting "make america white again" with a swastika on the side of buildings.

      • Since you aren't using yours, it won't be much of a loss.
  • by Rei ( 128717 ) on Monday November 14, 2016 @02:06PM (#53282681) Homepage

    The most recent fake one that I've seen, with its supports absolutely adamant that it's real, is the "Clinton didn't really win the popular vote, Trump did!" thing. They defend it to the day they die, despite the fact that it's flatly contradicted by all official sources, can be traced back to the guy who made it up, and is based around factually incorrect statements about how votes are tabulated.

    Not that the left is innocent in all of this. I still keep seeing that fake quote about Trump saying that Republican voters are idiots who will believe anything. How many times do you have to point out that it's fake for people to stop circulating it?

    We need more fact checks, period. It bugs me to no end that news stations just broadcast politicians giving speeches and pundits making claims, wherein they may reiterate a dozen different things that have literally zero basis in reality... and just let it go uncorrected. That's journalistic malpractice, plain and simple. I know they want to jeep the pace of coverage up, but they're willfully letting their viewers get misinformed in order to do so.

    • by amiga3D ( 567632 ) on Monday November 14, 2016 @02:32PM (#53282937)

      I don't get the people saying Trump won the popular vote. He narrowly won quite a few states, some very narrowly while HRC won 2 to 1 in several of the very liberal states such as New York and California. These states are very heavily populated and she won big there. The electoral college worked just as it was designed, to curb the impact larger populated states have on the election. All those flyover states have an impact too.

    • The most recent fake one that I've seen, with its supports absolutely adamant that it's real, is the "Clinton didn't really win the popular vote, Trump did!" thing. They defend it to the day they die, despite the fact that it's flatly contradicted by all official sources, can be traced back to the guy who made it up, and is based around factually incorrect statements about how votes are tabulated.

      I saw this on Facebook from Judge Jeanine Pirro. I went and checked, and couldn't find any returns that supported it.

      Not that the left is innocent in all of this. I still keep seeing that fake quote about Trump saying that Republican voters are idiots who will believe anything. How many times do you have to point out that it's fake for people to stop circulating it?

      Another friend of mine posted the Trump quote and I linked to Snopes showing it was a fake, figuring he would see that as authoritative.. One of his friends said "Yeah, and who runs Snopes?!?" Another one of his friends said something like "So what if it's not true? After all the lies he told about Hillary, we need to keep circulating it a million times!" SMH.

    • Not that the left is innocent in all of this.

      Well really, it's not like it's just Democrats and Republicans posting fake news during this election. Every once in a while, my mom posts a story that says something like, "If you post this story on Facebook, Bill Gates will give you a millions dollars!" Every time I have to explain that it's not real. I understand the story says, "I know it's hard to believe, but it's REAL!" It's still not real. It doesn't even make sense. Stop posting it.

      We can debate about what Facebook should do about it, or eve

  • Here's the thing (Score:5, Insightful)

    by DrXym ( 126579 ) on Monday November 14, 2016 @02:09PM (#53282707)
    Fake news can and does from both political wings. I see no reason that Facebook cannot squelch bullshit wherever it comes from - impartially, transparently and fairly. And perhaps some (a lot) does target the right and it might spark a backlash to snuff it out. Man the fuck up and do it. The alternative of allowing it so the stupid propagates is FAR worse as we are now witnessing.
    • by amiga3D ( 567632 )

      I'm always amazed at some of the crazy stuff I see circulating on social media. I look at it and wonder how people can be so naive as to believe this bullshit. It happens on network news as well. I once saw a woman talking about how the number of children's deaths from handguns had doubled every year since 1960. This was in like 1994 or so. Obvious bullshit to anyone who has ever done a little simple arithmetic but the news anchor just blandly accepted it as fact. Amazing how stupid people are.

    • Yeah, that story about Megyn Kelly being fired from FNC for not being a Conservative did not come from the Right, since the Right views FNC not as Right Wing, but Fair & Balanced. It's the Left that would have made up that sort of a story, and did!
  • by Tablizer ( 95088 ) on Monday November 14, 2016 @02:10PM (#53282719) Journal

    Outright banning them is too extreme in my opinion, in part because of the appearance of or risk of censorship.

    Instead, tag the suspect stories, or all stories, with a link to lists of alternative sources, viewpoints, and fact-checking sites for the claims given.

    By the way, some conservatives consider politifact.com and snopes.com to be left-leaning. Evidence of this is thin, or at least doesn't show significant bias in my inspections. (I see errors in ranking judgement more than bias.)

    However, assuming it is left-leaning, where is the right's alternative?

    • By the way, some conservatives consider politifact.com and snopes.com to be left-leaning. Evidence of this is thin, or at least doesn't show significant bias in my inspections. (I see errors in ranking judgement more than bias.)

      However, assuming it is left-leaning, where is the right's alternative?

      If the fact-checking sites report 38% of fake-stories for the alt-right and only 19% for the alt-left, then it is in the interest of conservative politicians to declare those sites as left-wing: the conservative electorate will then look at them with distrust, will stop visiting them and will not be exposed to opinions that contradict their opinion.

      The right alternative to fact-checking is no fact-checking.

  • If I recall correctly most fake news were against Trump, not against Hillary.
    I am more surprised that despite the many word twists, omissions of context and outright lies about Trump he still managed to win.
    Do not mistake me for pro Trump please, I think he is an idiot who is not half as smart as he thinks he is (especially that wall idea is silly), but that does not justify making stuff up about him, such as the 3 (or more) allegations about rape, out of which none proved to be true.
    Or the twisting of his

  • Eliminate fake news? Jesus, you'd have to block CNN, MSNBC, WaPo, NYT, HuffPo, on and on... Would have been a bloodbath.

  • C'mon (Score:3, Insightful)

    by argStyopa ( 232550 ) on Monday November 14, 2016 @02:13PM (#53282753) Journal

    ...seriously?

    They were afraid of a conservative backlash...BECAUSE THEY'D ALREADY BEEN MANIPULATING THE NEWS.

    Jesus wept, people. How far down the rabbit hole of post-facto rationalization do you need to go? Even the NYT has admitted that they'd abandoned any pretense of objectivity in their coverage, to the point that LIBERALS were getting sick of it.

  • I would have thought that Facebook would avoid censoring viewpoints, however crazy. Once they start editing or restricting content, AFAIK they lose their legal immunity as a neutral platform. Once they take control of content, they become liable for that content. Some people get their news from tabloids. Some Facebook sites are the equivalent. So what?

    On top of that: one person's "crazy" is another person's "entertainment" is another person's "truth". Remember the tinfoil conspiracy theories about the gover

    • by Rei ( 128717 )

      I don't think there should be censorship. But a little tag that pops up under the story preview with "This story's accuracy is doubtful; see more info here" wouldn't go awry. With of course a procedure to contest incorrect claims of fakery, and a procedure to flag other stories as being fake.

  • Which stories was the filter trying to block, and why, and how true/untrue were they? And which stories were getting rebroadcast more, which multiplies the score? We need statistics, and research conducted in parallel by responsible proponents of opposing viewpoints all around. Fake things purporting to be real things should be blocked from both sides. Of course, how can one do that without totally blocking all comedians and irony and sarcasm?
  • that would have identified fake or hoax news stories, but disproportionately impacted right-wing news sites

    Which means those right-wing "news" sites were putting out fake stories. What's the problem? An algorithm doesn't determine what party a comment is affiliated with, it only determines the veracity of the comment.

    But remember, Zuckerberg laughed about FB having an impact on the election. Because that's totally crazy [cnn.com].

    Then again, based on this posting, it appears Zuckerberg was lying about
  • by ErichTheRed ( 39327 ) on Monday November 14, 2016 @02:29PM (#53282903)

    I'm very left leaning, but do understand the importance of an objective, unbiased press. What people aren't getting is that Facebook is the press for the 21st Century. I feel they do need to realize this and figure out some way to deal with it. Otherwise, this problem is going to get worse and cause a huge mess.

    Back not so long ago, there were three news networks and a handful of "newspapers of record" that served as almost the sole authoritative source of information for most people. If something made it into the New York Times or Washington Post or Boston Globe, the story was at least believable and researched. it didn't get there just because some reporter bashed some keystrokes into his smartphone without thinking and hit Send. But, this is exactly what happens with Facebook and other Internet publishing media. Fringe groups (on both sides!) who would previously never get the time of day are suddenly given the world's biggest microphone and access to almost the entire population. Using sophisticated, polished publication techniques they can produce whatever content they want and call it unbiased news. Twitter is an even more interesting beast, in that you get access to unfiltered streams of consciousness. Not that it did any good, but look at how many times Donald Trump took to Twitter at 3 AM to personally insult a person or group of people...people loved it.

    Why is this bad? I hate to say it because it sounds elitist, but people as a whole are dumb. There's just no getting around it...the average person is much more likely to be swayed by something they see on their Facebook news feed. And since Facebook is an echo chamber, and hones in on exactly what you're interested in, "your" messages keep getting reinforced. Humans are animals, and civil society gets way less civil when people are screaming at each other as loud as they can.

    The thing I don't like about this social media revolution is that it brings out all the crazy fringe people on both sides who do things like incessantly post angry comments to news sites or spend hours a day listening to conservative talk radio people...and gives them open free license to yell whatever they want as loud as they want. Over time, moderate people are going to drift over to these extreme sides in an effort to be heard.

  • I'd love to see Facebook buy Snopes and then integrate that into their news feed. Then they can add a Bullshit Meter to each story. The thing is, the best alt-right news isn't 100% fake; the best ones are about 90% true. It's when they completely manipulate information to present a twisted argument of when it all goes wrong.
  • by jmyers ( 208878 ) on Monday November 14, 2016 @02:29PM (#53282907)

    Maybe I just have a lot naive liberal friends. I see lots of fake stories from both sides I would say at least equal amounts left and right. I just scroll past and I have stopped following some on both sides. I never challenge anything on-line because you just get incoherent rants from the poster and they do not hear what you are saying. It is not fake because they believe the premise. The facts are just an annoyance.

    People will believe without question anything that matches their ideology or preconceived notions and they will vehemently challenge anything against them. This is true across all ideologies and probably true for the people at Facebook who saw fake news as a conservative problem.

    • Anyone trying to claim there's as many phony liberal-created stories out there as conservative ones is either a liar or a fool.

  • Fact-based journalism is dying. Yellow journalism is thriving. If you are one of those do-gooders that just wants to report facts and figures to a dwindling audience, then - to quote the new owner/CEO of The Oregonian - F**k you.
  • by Maury Markowitz ( 452832 ) on Monday November 14, 2016 @02:38PM (#53283005) Homepage

    Hmmm, does anyone know if there's an extension that looks up every post on snopes and puts a badge on it?

    That's what I need.

  • Of course, it's a matter of pure coincidence that Facebook board member Peter Thiel has been named to Trump's transition team.

  • The irony of all may just be that the anti-Trump "half truth" system is ramping up as speculation runs rampant on what Donald Trump will do as President. Trump has said a lot of crazy things, so it works because then you can start adding other things to take it a step further and make it sound even more extreme. A classic example of what I saw recently was one that Trump was going to start making Muslims wear yellow stars in public (a la Hitler and the Jews). The sourcing is false on that, it's "merely" go
  • "The goal of eliminating any appearance of political bias" is not the same as "eliminating political bias." In short, their goal is to improve their skills at generating propaganda, so they don't get caught as much.

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