Facebook Favours Free Speech Over Fake News Removal

In a recent Facebook media presentation in Manhattan, and despite the threat of social media regulation e.g. from Ofcom, Facebook said that removing fabricated posts would be “contrary to the basic principles of free speech”.

Fake News

The term ‘fake news’ has become synonymous with the 2016 US general election and accusations that Facebook was a platform for fake political news to be spread e.g. by Russia. Also, fake news is a term that has become synonymous with President Trump, who frequently uses the term, often (some would say) to act as a catch-all term to discredit/counter critical stories in the media.

In essence, fake news refers to deliberate misinformation or hoaxes, manipulated to resemble credible journalism and attract maximum attention, and it is spread mainly by social media. Facebook has tried to be seen to flag up and clean up obvious fake news ever since its reputation was tarnished by the election news scandals.

What About InfoWars?

The point was made to Facebook at the media presentation by a CNN reporter that the fact that InfoWars, a site having been known to have published false information and conspiracy theories, has been allowed to remain on the platform may be evidence that Facebook is not tackling fake news as well as it could.

A Matter of Perspective

To counter this and other similar accusations, Facebook has stated that it sees pages on both the left and the right side of politics distributing what they consider to be opinion or analysis but what others, from a different perspective, may call fake news.

Facebook also tweeted that banning those kinds of pages e.g. InfoWars, would be contrary to the basic principles of free speech.

A Matter of Trust

Ofcom research has suggested that people have relatively little trust in what they read in social media content anyway. The research showed that only 39% consider social media to be a trustworthy news source, compared to 63% for newspapers and 70% for TV.

Age Plays A Part

Other research from Stanford’s Graduate School of Education, involving more than 7,800 responses from middle school, high school and college students in 12 US states focused on their ability to assess information sources. The results showed a shocking lack of ability to evaluate information at even as basic a level as distinguishing advertisements from articles. When you consider that many young people get their news from social media, this shows that they may be more vulnerable and receptive to fake stories, and their wide networks of friends could mean that fake stories could be quickly and widely spread among other potentially vulnerable recipients.

Although Facebook is known to have an older demographic now, many young people still use it, Facebook has tried to launch a kind of Facebook for children to attract more young users, and Facebook owns Instagram, partly as a means to try and mop up young users who leave Facebook. It could be argued, therefore, that Facebook, and other social media platforms have a responsibility to regulate some content in order to protect users.

What Does This Mean For Your Business?

Fake news stories are not exclusive to social media platforms as the number of retractions and apologies in newspapers over the years are a testament. The real concern has arisen about social media, and Facebook particularly, because of what appears (allegedly) to have been the ability of actors from a foreign power being able to use fake news on Facebook to actually influence the election of a President. Which party and President is in power in the US can, in turn, have a dramatic effect on businesses and markets around the world, and the opportunities that other foreign powers think they have.

Facebook is also busy fighting another crisis in trust that has arisen from news of its sharing of users’ personal data with Cambridge Analytica, and the company is focusing much of its PR effort not on talking specifically about fake news, but about how Facebook has changed, why we should trust it again, and how much it cares about our privacy.

Meanwhile in the UK, Ofcom chief executive Sharon White, has clearly stated that she believes that media platforms need to be “more accountable” in their policing of content. While this may be understandable, many rights and privacy campaigners would not like the idea that free speech could be influenced and curbed by governments, perhaps to suit their own agenda. The arguments continue.

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