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Facebook will never take responsibility for fake news (techcrunch.com)
65 points by Garbage on Mar 19, 2017 | hide | past | web | favorite | 57 comments

"Fake news" only became a "problem" after the last US election.

If we really want to solve the problem instead of an an outlet to vent frustration like spiled brats, then we should think deeper.

Why does my mum believe every piece of crap that shows up on Facebook and WhatsApp? And why do I call bullshit within a few seconds of reading it?

This I believe is the right angle. Why do people believe obvious lies. And why is it obvious to some and not others?

I suspect the root of the problem is our system of education. The primary goal these days seems to be obedience and unquestioning believe in authority.

If this isn't solved (I doubt it can). Then asking for fake news control will bring a bigger problem - loss of free flow of information...

China already has an excellent way of controlling fake news. But is that what we really want? Those who will benefit from the Chinese news control are those behind the sudden interest in fake news.

Wake up people!

Whenever somebody ends a comment with 'Wake up people!' I instantly delete everything I have read from my mind.

>>I suspect the root of the problem is our system of education. The primary goal these days seems to be obedience and unquestioning believe in authority.<<

You would think so. But my dad is a varsity Professor with a PhD, my mom has a Masters in English.

They believe literally every cock and bull story they see on Facebook.

You make an interesting point when you state that "The primary goal these days seems to be obedience and unquestioning believe in authority." because for me that is both the problem and, ironically, the very obvious solution.

If there was a trusted (read, authoritative) service that one could use to vet such stories then the problem would go away.

The devil is in the details though. I've seen people dismiss Snopes as some sort of leftist agenda pandering website.

>>I suspect the root of the problem is our system of education. The primary goal these days seems to be obedience and unquestioning believe in authority

>You would think so. But my dad is a varsity Professor with a PhD, my mom has a Masters in English. They believe literally every cock and bull story they see on Facebook.

This is precisely what the parent to your comment is saying. Many (most?) degrees hold more symbolic value (read, fake) than real practical value because that is what education has devolved into: favoring symbolism (test scores, degrees) over real life applicability.

>If there was a trusted (read, authoritative) service that one could use to vet such stories then the problem would go away.

This is a logical fallacy.

If you already think you lack the ability to find truth, how would you know it was real when someone else supposedly gave it to you? If you can't trust yourself how can you trust your trust in others?

> If there was a trusted (read, authoritative) service that one could use to vet such stories then the problem would go away. The devil is in the details though. I've seen people dismiss Snopes as some sort of leftist agenda pandering website.

But this is exactly the issue. If you're saying "these people aren't competent to evaluate news, so they need a trusted source", then how can they possibly evaluate their trusted source?

It's not a surprise that people who can't pick out fake news stories also can't tell how effective Snopes is, it's the heart of the problem. (Well, that and "if Snopes became authoritative, how would you know if it started lying?")

> You would think so. But my dad is a varsity Professor with a PhD, my mom has a Masters in English. They believe literally every cock and bull story they see on Facebook.

I would guess that the difference between you and your parents is years of exposure to the tropes, tone, register and other pragmatics of internet content.

I don't think the problem is with the level of education, but rather how people are educated to deal with issues in the real world.

> China already has an excellent way of controlling fake news

Here's the fun part, in China, spreading rumor is a criminal offence, but debunks (or at least one sided debunks) are not. So people and PR firms and using fake news to counter fake news.

If people want to be bullshitted they will be bullshitted. Fake news on BOTH sides allows people's confirmation bias to give them that nice hit of dopamine on how right they were about those Muslim immigrants or ignorant flyover hillbillies.

Step one is to realize your side is just as full of shit as the other and to accept that your favorite politicians are not right about even half of most public policy ideas.

After that, then you can start working on removing biases.

Edit: Also fake news is such a shitty term. Call it what it is: propaganda. Media that plays to the worst elements of our animal brains to bring the greatest emotional response and move our fingers to the share buttons. It's nothing new, we just have an unprecedented amount of it available to us and little desire to hear the complex and often unintuitive truth to many issues: nuance doesn't fit in a tweet.

If I'm a Trump supporter who sees a fake story about how Hillary's email are proof of treason why would I did into it? It tells me exactly what I want to hear.

This gets even easier if you are misleading and manipulating facts rather than outright making them up. The pope endorsed trump sounds immediately made up, and has nothing to back it up. Hillary conspired to keep drug prices high, when "backed up" by emails is easier to believe. If I already believe she's corrupt then why would I doubt more evidence.

The basic principle is 'most of the people can be manipulated', and it is a fight for who will manipulate those people. During internet era, we have seen a lot of examples of this in many levels, fake ads, celebrities endorsing products, bloggers reviewing products that they got for free, fake poll results, Those stuff we can only fight with by educating people, and it is not so easy, cause also manipulators are getting smarter.

Indeed. In the UK, the drip feed of fake news over the last decade from the traditional print press must have contributed to the Brexit victory.

The Daily Mail is still running stories about straight cucumbers now.

i think this can all be solved with a new social media tool, which takes human nature into account and is carefully designed and evolved to direct thought into certain patterns... but who designs the software???? That person will have great power. Really you need a tool to make building software accessible to many more people.

And neither should they.

The German government wants to implement insane penalties for not removing "fake news" fast enough, but what they're really trying to do is make sure Facebook only tells their side of the story, i.e. establish censorship on the internet.

Government-critical sites that had millions of followers were already banned while media supporting the government can happily keep spreading their equally or even worse fake news.

It's becoming a world-wide trend to call unfavorable things fascist and then employ fascist methods to fight them. Just like calling oligarchic structures a democracy, because it sells better.

Upvoted, I really feel that the discussion about fake news is degenerating / encroaching towards maintaining the status quo and a generalised lack of self-criticism.

When I read

> I highly doubt that Facebook will “move fast, break things.”

> Instead, Facebook is pushing half-hearted solutions and scapegoating the issue to other parties, prepping to weather this storm on an already-laid foundation of media dependence and habit.

I start to think Facebook is only waiting to be disrupted.

This may be one of the human sides of a technology developed by people who want to "fix everything from polarization to terrorist attacks to how we live together", but fail to provide basic rights to its users (privacy and freedom of information among others).

Any opinion ?

> It's becoming a world-wide trend to call unfavorable things fascist and then employ fascist methods to fight them.

Take all of my upvotes.

I'll never get my head around "Antifa" doxxing and assaulting Trump voters because they're "facists". When someone stands up against these kids, ie Based Stick Man, they're the ones that get arrested not the aggressors.

Guess they never learned about Nietzsche...

“Beware that, when fighting monsters, you yourself do not become a monster... for when you gaze long into the abyss. The abyss gazes also into you.”

The obvious point is that Facebook cannot provide accurate review-and-takedown of the total activity of billions of users. It doesn't matter what you legislate, it's currently not possible.

Given which, "penalties for fake news" means one of: "after reports, which is too late", "all of it, so shut down your company", or "anything which annoys us enough to prosecute, so be proactive about pushing our stance". Choice three seems to be the usual outcome.

Why should it? It's a for-profit entity fine tuned to surface the kind of links YOU want to read. The problem is us humans, we're prone to set rational thinking aside when presented with "news" to our liking. Every time we click on a link too good to be true, we're hoping that this one time the universe has finally rewarded us for our persistent but futile attempts at moulding it to our fancy.

I think it's somewhat dangerous mindset that the "fake news problem" should/could be handled solely by the publishing platform. There will always be another way to publish false information. People believe fake news because they want to believe. Introducing any kind of sensoring authority will only treat the symptoms, not the disease, making the long-term problem worse. Basic education, equal opportunities etc. are the only sustainable solution.

This is not a Facebook problem, nor is it a problem that can be fixed structurally since a fundamental disagreement about what constitutes fake news exists along partisan lines. When 'fake news' aligns with an individual's bias, the truth has now become the lie. Any attempt to wrest the non-aligning view-point from the realm of facts is met with a doubling-down and a recursive poisoning of every well.

The only viable solution must come from the top-down. People will only reject fake news when leaders emphasize critical thinking and shoot down false stories, especially when the fake narrative is favorable to them or their position.

1. Everyone is born with the ability to trust, and to distrust. Many people suck at trusting others (i.e. they trust too much people who aren't trustworthy, and trust too little people who are), that's how you get abusive spouses and unavailable spouses. Trusting some news outlets and distrusting others is no different from dis/trusting people. The problem of people trusting the wrong things has been a problem throughout history, and the solution has to be psychological. Mandatory therapy for every citizen? Won't happen.

2. Teaching kids to spot "fake news" at school is laughably impotent and "feel good". People believe fake stories because they're emotionally-invested in the subject (see PG's "keep your identity small" post). Anyone that thinks we can solve fake news through "critical thinking skills" is... fake news. The problem is emotional involvement. If you're emotionally involved in a story, you won't want to use critical thinking.

3. You can get people to change their opinions, e.g. from climate-denial to pro-science (through using their cognitive dissonance against them). That's how you got Sanders converting Trump supporters at a recent town hall[0]. You haven't made them more rational, you've just taken their emotions, which pointed one way, and made them point the other way. So, if you want to make people trust "the establishment" or the Democrats more, you don't need to fix points 1. and 2. (which require fixing people), you just need to learn about cognitive dissonance and persuasion. But that doesn't solve the core problem of not having an informed population.

[0]: http://www.politicususa.com/2017/03/13/bernie-sanders-storms...

If we choose to 'fight' fake news, meaning we try to automate its removal from social networks, we'll end up censoring a good deal of speculative news which takes leaps of logic and is controversial but not 'fake' in the sense that it's trying to pass falsehood as fact. This is obviously problematic if we want to foster free and open discourse.

The alternative is to not do anything at all, but that leaves our democracies open to attack from malicious actors.

These both lead to bad outcomes. So let's consider alternative approaches.

I believe 'fake news' is a symptom as well as a cause of political polarization. The less polarized and divisive our politics is, the less willing people will be to blindly accept fake news. Basically the potential receptive audience to fake news will decline. Given that approaches which try to attack fake news directly both have negative consequences, I think if we instead try to target other sources of polarization in society the fake news problem itself will become less serious.

Let's start with getting money out of politics, instituting term limits for congress, finding an alternative to gerrymandering for the creation of electoral districts and most importantly growing the economy.

These are challenging and nontrivial approaches but will ultimately attack the root cause of fake news spread. It is much better to treat a disease at its source than to just treat its symptoms.

I believe this to be correct. You have to change the political system. From a technical perspective it is easy, we know about voting systems, we know how gerrymandering works and how to fight it.

Many people don't know that the Swiss System is actually based on the American one, with some small differences. These differences have lead to at totally different result. Switzerland has about 12 parties in the lower house and 6 in the upper. The President and his Ministers are replaced by a council of ministers (7) that is elected by the parliament, currently 4 parties are represented.

The US would not need to copy the Swiss model, but some changes that lead to similar effects would help the US political system and the 'fake news' problem.

A good place to start: https://www.youtube.com/playlist?list=PL7679C7ACE93A5638

Intentionally or unintentionally, they have to go. All media is suspect without sources, secret sources, sources that won't go on record, and all the rest without proof of what they're saying.

Else we're no better than school yard gossip.

So you want to ban all opinion and editorial pieces? Articles based on facts very often speculate and riff on ideas, branching off of initial facts, to reach conclusions. Who decides what is appropriate speculation and what is not?

"Appropriate speculation" isn't spouting off about a pet agenda a particular news outlet has or shoehorning it into whatever #popularbullshit is trending, it's about a logical conclusion to new information. Opinion pieces take that and twist it to their own bias and quite often into an inflammatory way.

Too many outlets use opinion pieces as fact and engage in public outraging by selecting the most controversial, inflammatory, or biased stories and opinions to get viewership. Hell, you don't have to look far for them claiming not to be news but "Entertainment News" and frankly, it's insulting. News used to have standards. Unfortunately it scrapes the bottom of the barrel.

Why wont the News Media take responsibility for their content being so poor that it's increasingly hard to tell between what's "real" and what's "fake"?

They don't really care anymore as long as that sweet sweet ad revenue keeps rolling in.

That's one thing I've noticed drives a lot of the fake news sites - they're loaded with ads. Clearly that's their goal. If only we could get Google to cut off ad revenue to websites that are spreading made-up news.

Good recent example? This: http://archive.is/R5Z1J

Fake news about Trump spread like wildfire. Even worse, the fake news sites were set up by a media company to advertise their new film. I think that's absolutely reprehensible behavior on their part.


And it's all about the ad revenue.

Bingo. The batshit fundie newsletters are better sourced than the average nyt article these days.

I'm not sure that they should take responsibility for it, but I do believe they should make tools available for people to fight it, although I don't think even that is an easy task. Facebook enables fake news by offering a platform where fake news can spread, but it spreads because a lot of people really do believe what is being reported, not because they necessarily want to spread fake news.

Fake news, or lies as we should really be calling them, is very much a social problem. We've had "fake news" in the form of parody websites like the Onion for a long time, and whilst a large number of people fell for their stories, they often didn't make the same mistake twice. People are looking for new sources of news, and the combination of this with easily shareable and difficult to verify stories means that the lies spread quickly.

Part of this has been caused by the attack on mainstream media (MSM) - people no longer trust the MSM because they're being told not to by politicians, and the fact that they're often caught misreporting stories doesn't help this. So, people turn to smaller more focused sources - often ones which they've never heard of before, and which they haven't been told not to trust. How does Facebook solve this? I'm not sure. Flagging stories as "this hasn't been reported elsewhere", or by filtering new sources of news might be a start, but it wouldn't be a solution. I'm not sure people would trust Facebook to manually moderate content, and it would simply give fake news and politicians the ammunition they needed to target Facebook as being against them. The very nature of news is that its unexpected and mostly unpredictable, so training algorithms to detect fake news reliably, without hiding real news, is a very difficult task.

Facebook can't take responsibility for fake news, society needs to do that.

> people no longer trust the MSM because they're being told not to by politicians

I'm not sure that's the biggest part of the problem, though maybe it's different in my bubble. In my experience, the MSM destroyed their own credibility by acting as stenographers for political and corporate power, and, in the process, spreading "fake news". And it wasn't the little independent partisan sources, it was literally the WaPo and the NYT that helped the Bush II regime lie us into the Iraq War (14 years ago today!)[0].

It's hard to gain back credibility when you've so comprehensively destroyed it in order to be close to power. And the NYT and WaPo have not even pretended to be interested in doing so.

[0]: http://www.eschatonblog.com/2017/03/only-fools-and-frenchmen...

"people no longer trust the MSM because they're being told not to by politicians, and the fact that they're often caught misreporting stories doesn't help this."

Chronologically implausible. Trust in the MSM has been collapsing for decades; politicians only recently began telling people not to trust them. Politicians telling people not to trust the media is an effect of the fact that trust had already collapsed, not the cause. If people had trust and regard for the media, then politicians, another group that people have little trust and regard for, telling people not to trust them would have had no effect.

Personally, I can't help but notice that almost nobody seems to propose that if the mainstream news organizations want to fight "fake news", maybe they should make the effort to become more trustworthy. Not make an effort to appear more trustworthy, but to become more trustworthy. I think it says something profound about our era that this hardly even comes up.

>"Not make an effort to appear more trustworthy, but to become more trustworthy"

Jon Stewart touched on this recently on an appearance on The Late Show.

>"This breakup with Donald Trump has given you, the media, an amazing opportunity for self-reflection and improvement, Instead of worrying about whether Trump is un-American, or if he thinks you're the enemy, or if he's being mean to you, or if he's going to let you go back into the briefings, do something for yourself. Self-improvement! Take up a hobby. I recommend journalism."[1]

[1]: https://youtu.be/cmdFne7LnuA?t=9m34s

I also don't think they should take the responsability for it (pretty much like Torrent Trackers, or Youtube, when it comes to content distribution).

But I think there could be some mechanisms in place, similar to how Youtube handles copyright claims - where upon reporting, or a request for a source from any Facebook user - the publication would get it's Reach capped, or the publication would be hidden, until further evidence is displayed.

Now, there are a lot of problems with this approach - first it's user based (which has it's pros and cons), second it may be target for malicious activity and anti-competitive pratices - but on the other hand if the source was displayed, it would somehow protect them (at least briefly), without having the Reach capped, but still flagged if the source is dubious.

Yeah, this sounds prone to malicious abuse, mostly because of the subject matter. I've heard of occasional malicious use of Youtube copyright claims, but in the case of fake news on Facebook, the same system seems like it would devolve to Breitbart readers and Mother Jones readers dogpiling each the other source's articles to limit their reach in the short term.

Come to think of it, that might not be the worst thing in the world.

Until they start dogpiling the media that disagrees with both of their biases. Which already happens. If you're far enough on any side of a political spectrum, even reasonable news sounds fake to you.

The problem with having to provide a source is that the majority of "fake news" type stories, even the ones that are true, come from anonymous sources "close to X" or "within Y". It also means every Onion story will be capped.

Something at a publisher level, where the publisher themselves is given a fake news rating, rather than individual stories, might work, but even that is full of difficult to solve issues.

Well, the Onion is considered a news or entertainment?

Publishers always had reputation (good or bad) based on their work, which maybe could be displayed with a rating - the problem is when even those with good rep are wrong...

The Onion is listed as a Media/news company on Facebook. For those that know what the Onion is, it's entertainment masquerading as news, but for those who don't know, it certainly looks a lot like news.

> similar to how Youtube handles copyright claims

This is a practical suggestion, but not one I find reassuring. The Youtube copyright system works fairly well from the perspective of big rights holders, but is relentlessly abused for both censorship and corporate overreach in taking down fair-use or even non-infringing content.

That's basically the outcome I expect from a fake-news-takedown system, too. It would almost inevitably end up working for whoever was willing to throw the most time and money at manipulating content.

I'm all for freedom of speech, but is the "information snack" format of Facebook not simply the wrong format for spreading political views?

Imho, at the least, Facebook should merge commenting from larger groups of users on a single political post, in such a way that a balanced view of pro and con arguments can be read. (This means that if one of my friends shares a post, I don't see just my friends' comments).

That's what you have in comments sections of news articles (and in comments to posts of fanpages). It's almost always unreadable mess composed of the worst humanity has to offer.

I'm not convinced this will help. This is effectively what happens on Twitter, and the fact that the replies are full of links to a Snopes article debunking the claim doesn't seem to stop people from retweeting it even on the left.

Naive question maybe: why do news articles not cite sources and have a references section at the end, like academic articles?

> but it spreads because a lot of people really do believe what is being reported, not because they necessarily want to spread fake news.

Similar to how some aren't looking for news, but affirmations of their political beliefs.

The entire field of advertising can be classified as "fake news".

There is article "Fake News" from 1992 [0], looking at the problem from this angle, essentially saying that quite a lot of news is fake in a sense that it is not prepared by journalists, but instead supplied by public relations agencies and published without any critical analysis by the media.

Take for example recent CIA leaks. Reuters, when reporting it [1], included a statement from antivirus software manufacturing saying that "We can prevent attacks in real time if we were given the hooks into the mobile operating system". Given long history of AV software manufactures not following even basic security practices, I doubt that security experts would agree that this is how we should ensure safety of mobile devices.

[0] David Lieberman, "Fake News,", TV Guide 1992, quoted in "Toxic sludge is good for you".

[1] Eric Auchard, "Wikileaks' CIA hacking dump sends tech firms scrambling for fixes" http://www.reuters.com/article/wikileaks-products-idUSL5N1GL...

A lot of things fall under the "fake news" definition nowadays, from alternative points of view all the way to state-sponsored disinformation and propaganda.

However, the term being loosely defined should not make us lose sight of the fact that there is an specific kind of "fake news" that is 100% a consequence of the priorities and incentives that Facebook has put in place: making outrageous headlines and stories out of thin air, for no other reason than making money from advertising.

You mean the priorities and incentives that advertisers have put in place? Because while Facebook and other social media sites are often associated with it, I'd say things like Google search and ad networks have encouraged it just as much.

> the priorities and incentives that Facebook has put in place: making outrageous headlines and stories out of thin air

Because we don't see outrageous headlines anywhere else ! That's why !

I didn't think I'd live to see the day people are upset with Facebook for not having more influence in the content they see. I understand the reasoning, and know it's not that simple, but still, it just sounds so backwards

Nor should they.

The problem is that, to judge something as 'fake', an authority needs to deem what is 'real'. And abuse of authority never happens, right? Banning fake news is akin to state censorship, since ultimately the one making the penalties (the state) gets to decide what 'fake news' actually is.

If you want to avoid fake news, why not pay for real news?

Buy a subscription to the NY Times, or any other of the major newspapers or newsmagazines.[1]

Did you know the journalism industry is in a tailspin, and many professional reporters can't find jobs because people feel they can find the same information for free from blogs and on facebook?

Newspapers aren't perfect, and bias in unavoidable, _but_ I don't see too many blogs paying copyeditors and fact checkers to double check their work.

The good newspapers also take responsibility for their work and protect their sources.

I find it sad that as a society we are abandoning the press, which is an important check and balance on the other institutions in society.

Instead we prefer our dopamine squirts from swiping our facebook feeds on our phones, and being fed targeted stories that confirm our biases.

I find it a sad irony that a generation who often likes to sneer at older industries, and disrupt them, thinks they have replaced the free press with something 'better' just because it is delivered via a cellphone.

They are mistaking the medium for the message. The information quality is lower, but if it feels new and shiny, it must be better right?...

[1] Yes I know most of these sources offer their content for free online, but I'm suggesting to pay for it anyway. You know support them before they disappear completely.

One man's fake news is another man's "I knew it."

So, Facebook won't censor?

> “It’s not always clear what is fake and what isn’t,” [Zuckerberg] continued. “A lot of what people are calling fake news are just opinions that people disagree with.”

> This is just the latest in a long string of recent responses to the issue that shirk responsibility for the content that users consume and share on Facebook.

It really isn't. This is the core issue.

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