There is too much fake news on Facebook right now. My News Feed looks like a joke at the moment. Click bait and absurd ‘news articles’ shared by friends who don’t do any research before transmitting it. It then reaches more people and begins to trend, reaching even more people as a result and the hellish feedback loop continues to grow.
There are two aspects this:
1. The good: Technology is democratizing public attention and somewhat ‘evening the playing field’ so that a remote blogger with something valuable to say now has about the same chance of reaching a million readers as a staff writer at a behemoth like Time Magazine.
2. The bad: As a result of 1 above, reach is no longer an indicator of reliability. (How many times have you clicked on a video / article because the title was interesting and it has millions of views only to discover it is junk?)
The fact remains, that there is both good journalism and bad journalism out there. Before social media, the trustworthiness of a publication’s content was indicated by among other things, how much regular readership it had in certain circles of the target audience. Now, social media’s peer-to-peer network effects mean that nonsense can make it onto trending topics just as well as the best journalism and that’s a massive problem.
Facebook is a primary news discovery platform for hundreds of millions of us. But this does not last if we no longer trust the news we find on the platform.
The level of trust in anything I read on here has plummeted in the past few months. And if I can’t trust it, I do not share it or begin conversations around it. And if I’m not doing that I spend less time on Facebook each day. Which creates its own feedback loop. And based on real world conversations in my network as well as conversations elsewhere online, more people are coming to this conclusion everyday. If they do not fix this, it will come their demise.
That said, if an algorithm cannot be trusted to do this job and Facebook decides to re-hire the team of human editors that they fired recently then a new problem is created. There will now be human gate-keepers controlling what news trends and what doesn’t. Humans have biases – both conscious and subconscious – that affect anything curated by them, which means they interfere with this perfect democratization of attention that I spoke of.
I think however, that the second problem is a far better one to have than the first. We now know that replacing human editors with pure technology is a mistake. On the other hand I suspect that using smart technology (that only becomes smarter over time) to augment human editors and balance out any biases would likely produce better results. At the very least, better than what we have now.
Fake news is a problem that could kill the Facebook News Feed as a news discovery platform and whichever platform replaces it for that function may not grow bigger than Facebook, but it will certainly take a lot of power users, eyeballs and with them, loads more in advertising dollars away from Facebook. This is how once mighty platforms start to shrink.