back to article Facebook decides fake news isn't crazy after all. It's now a real problem

Last November at the Techonomy Conference in Half Moon Bay, California, Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg dismissed the notion that disinformation had affected the US presidential election as lunacy. "The idea that fake news on Facebook, which is a very small amount of the content, influenced the election in any way, I think, is a …

  1. PhilipN Silver badge

    "making Faceboook safe ..."

    Straight out of the Microsoft Manual of Platitudes. Quite meaningless. Obviously written by the PR guys, which means we are going to see this and other carefully chosen expressions every time there is a proclamation by FB.

    The reality is, like it or not, misinformation is an integral part of the World whether it is at the government, political, street or personal - or office - level. Starts with saying "fine" in response to "how are you?" to, e.g., members of the same political party "dripping poison" in each others ears. To combat which we, as sentient beings, are supposed to develop a sense of scepticism and a habit of questioning.

    What is a damn sight harder than eliminating blatant falsehoods is establishing the truth.

    Frankly, misinformation is much more entertaining.

  2. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    "False amplification – efforts to spread misinformation to hurt a cause"

    "In a regulatory vacuum, weaponise the narrative you want"... I guess Zuck was too busy counting his billions to read this then:

  3. J.Smith

    I'm wise to this fake news thing. I get my info direct from The Sun and the BBC, they both work hard to tell me what to think.

  4. Anonymous Coward

    Fake to who?

    We're living in a time where some people will even label a simple and polite sharing of a disagreement as online harassment. When they're confronted with simple (sometimes scientific) facts they'll easily shrug it off with whatever argument they have, and consider that fake. In this day and age some will even go so far as to dismiss plain and simple physics.

    As funny as that might be it also raises an important question when you label something as fake: "Fake to who'm?".

    And another thing: what exactly qualifies as fake news? The article is quite vague here: "efforts to spread misinformation to hurt a cause, sow mistrust in political institutions, or foment civil strife". What cause? How about an example cause to ban all violence from video games? I'm pretty sure that can trigger some (in my opinion well deserved) heated comments.

    But doesn't that mean you're creating an impasse? I mean: the cause itself is basically out to hurt another cause; namely the selling and enjoyment of video games. So are those heated reactions now an effort to spread misinformation, is the example cause itself spreading mis-information or...

    I think Facebook is slowly digging a hole here where it might become quite difficult to get out of.

  5. Anonymous Coward

    The Thin End

    Yes "Fake to who?" is a good point. We seem to be encouraging and even legally requiring web content providers to police the opinions expressed therein. Is this really where we want to go?

    We are living in a time where science is questioned. Do we risk scientific fact being labeled "fake news" if is disagrees with the beliefs of the governors? I worry we do.

    The web used to be about freedom of expression. Remember those days?

    Please be careful encouraging or legally requiring content providers to police opinions please.

    1. Thought About IT

      Re: The Thin End

      The real news is that fake news which affirms belief can now spread at an unstoppable rate. If subsequently corrected at source, very few of the readers of the original will receive the update, so the fake news becomes established as fact. This is obviously very dangerous for democracy and scientific facts which we don't want to be true, such as climate destabilisation due to our greenhouse gas emissions. This obviously has to be tackled, but I'm not convinced that Facebook's approach is going to be effective.

    2. Pascal Monett Silver badge

      Re: "The web used to be about freedom of expression. Remember those days?"

      And the USA used to be about Freedom and Justice (for all). Who remembers those days ?

      The real issue, I think, is that we adopted the Internet and used it in the same way we used to go to village squares. Everyone talked, some people said outrageous things, some people said intelligent things (allegedly). Those people who said things that were offensive could only offend those within earshot and, by the end of the week, much was forgotten that was not truly despicable.

      We do the same on the Internet, but we still cannot grasp the fact that, years later, our posts can still be searched for and found, analyzed in or out of context and reacted upon. The Internet Village Square is a hall of echoes, and everyone can get offended about something at any point in time, even when the poster is no longer around to defend his point of view.

      I don't think we can change the Internet on that point - we're just going to have to learn to live with it.

      And maybe stop reflex-posting by engaging brain a bit more before hitting that keyboard.

  6. Tony S

    I'm a great believer of freedom of speech; and as a rule, I prefer that there be minimal legislation to limit what people are allowed to say. Even if it is done for the best of reasons, once you start to place a curb on an individual's freedom of expression, it is increasingly easy for those restrictions to be misused, to prevent people from saying things just because you don't like them, or because they have opposing views.

    However, there have been numerous examples of pictures being manipulated or misrepresented on social media, in a deliberate attempt to appeal to certain elements of society and their beliefs. These then get copied, shared and passed around by people that think those posts are valid, just because they match their own personal bias.

    Having tried to (politely) indicate to those people where this is wrong, and then being subject to a tirade of abuse on many occasions because I dared to suggest that they might want to check sources and veracity of what they post, it can be easy to suggest that perhaps some barriers need to be raised.

    Of course, it would be better if people were a little more careful of what they believe, and so post on line; but sadly, I think that would be a virtually impossible task.

  7. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    Oh dear

    Have the Moldovans been making shit up about the Zuk?

  8. anonymous boring coward Silver badge

    Simplest and most effective solution is to not use the crap that is FB.

  9. Potemkine Silver badge


    The idea that fake news on Facebook, which is a very small amount of the content, influenced the election in any way, I think, is a pretty crazy idea

    Oh ok, if he thinks it's crazy, it must be crazy then. What a brilliant demonstration, I love the argumentation.

    "of all the content on Facebook, more than 99 per cent of what people see is authentic."

    Like the rapes or murders which are broadcast on Facebook Live for anyone to see... <irony>Thank you Facebook, you make the World really better</irony> :puke:

    1. Pascal Monett Silver badge

      99% authentic ?

      Really ?

      So all those dog/cat profiles are real animals posting in English ?

      Wow, who'd a thunk it ?

      1. Phukov Andigh Bronze badge

        Re: 99% authentic ?

        of course, it's blatant proof that Cats cannot spell or use proper grammar.

        But the Cat Lovers call this "fake news!" and want it banned...

  10. Robert D Bank

    Interestingly there seems to be no appetite to counter the propaganda and misinformation spouted by the large corporate sector through their 'Think Tanks' and other lobby groups.

    Quote: 'in the UK only four think tanks – the Adam Smith Institute, Centre for Policy Studies, Institute of Economic Affairs and Policy Exchange – “still consider it acceptable to take money from hidden hands behind closed doors.” And these are the ones all over the media. When the Institute of Economic Affairs, as it so often does, appears on the BBC to argue against regulating tobacco, shouldn’t we be told that it has been funded by tobacco companies since 1963? There’s a similar pattern in the US: the most vocal groups tend to be the most opaque.'

    Influence an election? You bet. It's not just external players to be concerned about.

    Many of the 'Think Tanks' we see quoted in the media are funded by the large corporations and in many cases are not transparent about that. This report referenced in the above gives an interesting breakdown of 'Think Tanks' worldwide, and rates their level of transparency.

  11. A_Melbourne

    FB wants to go the same way as the MSM

    The mainstream media is dying - because of its pervasive lying by omission and commission. Facebook should try and learn from the mistake of the MSM.

    I subscribed to the Financial Times for around 40 years before getting fed up with their agenda. Now, I only look at the MSM to learn what is the latest lie that they are propagating or which piece of information they are trying not pass on to the general public.

    1. LionelB Silver badge

      Re: FB wants to go the same way as the MSM

      Now, I only look at the MSM to learn what is the latest lie that they are propagating or which piece of information they are trying not pass on to the general public.

      Out of interest, having rejected mainstream media as a source of reliable information, what are your alternative sources of information, and how sure can you be that they are any more reliable than the mainstream media?

      1. Phukov Andigh Bronze badge

        Re: FB wants to go the same way as the MSM

        simple. find what the Media references. Almost always there is a firsthand link to the source of their story, either a document, or an article, or hours of unedited or near raw recorded audio or video.

        If an article mentions a speech, look up the speech in whatever system of record it's in. Get as close to the original source. Read/view THAT.

        Now do multiple sources. Repeat.

        Ignore the opinion or the analysis of the base facts and make your own. And if all you find is links to links to opinions on something, reject it until something concrete comes along.

        People, companies or (blame shifting) "AI"s deciding to define "fake" news as something provably incorrect, outrageous or offensive, but accepting "real news" as referring to "people are saying" the same provably incorrect, offensive or outrageous are the new danger.

        Added to the old danger of "interpretation" being taken as "news". Where 60% approval for the "wrong" issue is "barely over half" while 25% on the "politically correct" side is "a large amount!". Using emotionally loaded wording to carry negative or positive "spin" while accurately reporting the numbers simply means the more creative liars win. Kinda like how antibacterial soaps may lead to more ferocious germs.

  12. Robert D Bank

    News only where it's 'favourable'?

    RSF’s latest World Press Freedom Index highlights the danger of a tipping point in the state of media freedom, especially in leading democratic countries.

    "The rate at which democracies are approaching the tipping point is alarming for all those who understand that, if media freedom is not secure, then none of the other freedoms can be guaranteed," Deloire added. "Where will this downward spiral take us?"

    1. Phukov Andigh Bronze badge

      Re: News only where it's 'favourable'?

      the problem with organizations with "indexes" complaining about freedom is that they cannot work unless the research knows the absolute truth and can then compare to the "lie", or knows the absolute amount of things they didn't hear about vs what they did.

      In nations with real absolute control over media and information flow, you don't get the confirmation of negative behavior. You don't hear the problems or the confirmation of news manipulation unless the "truth" gets out. Which leads to a much better provable "index".

      Now take the nation that leaks everything 24/7 you hear all the complaints, all the bugs, all the drama. All you gotta do is then decide what the "truth" is and whether you believe those claiming to be the quintessential "person on the street" showing their version different than the Media report, is actually showing "truth" as well.

      Then there's the whole "who are these people making the index?" who vets their organization, checks their data, reviews for accuracy and their personnel? Do we get accurate info, is the model accurate, or do we have "Blue Helmet Guy" or "White Bedsheet Conehead" or "Evil Russian H4xx0r" deeply embedded and providing incorrectly weighted or outright false data for propaganda reasons?

      Yeah, it's a deep rabbit hole. Which is why it's real easy for people to simply Accept the Official Record, or for others to simply Reject the Official Record while latching onto someone else's Official Record and sticking with that uncritically. To make one's own Record takes effort.

      Like actually reading the documentation on your electronic devices, your car's service manual, or the actual text of legislation being voted on.

      Freedom is Hard. A lot harder than "revolution" and riots.

  13. Voland's right hand Silver badge

    It is a very fine line

    It is a very fine line between "fake" and "non-authorized" news and any discrimination against "fake" can be applied to ensure that only the authorized opinion of Pravda is heard by the proles.

    We have been here before. I still remember the days when you were put on the suspicious list in USSR for owning a good short-wave capable of picking BBC World Service or radio Free Europe. I do not think we want to go back to that.

  14. This post has been deleted by its author

  15. Gnosis_Carmot

    "I would trust Mark on this," de Alfaro said in an email to The Register.

    He's about the only one to trust Zuckerberg on anything. This is the same MZ that called his company's users "dumb f**ks" ( )

    1. LionelB Silver badge

      Re: "I would trust Mark on this," de Alfaro said in an email to The Register.

      More specifically, he called them dumb f**ks for trusting him with their data - jokingly, perhaps, but in the context you have to say he had a point.

      (Beer icon because it's 5.00 ... somewhere. Here, in fact. Now.)

  16. jezzabelle_junkie

    The personal opinions of individuals VS facebook security calls it false and fraudulent information

    How will any security level and Facebook Pages of Individuals where the freedom to post personal ideas/ beliefs/ negative toward political or global issues is decided by security powers who oversee and monitor the Facebook World..

    When does a Facebook Post on a persons personal page be classed a risk and possible defamation of political or religious powers, when freedom of speech and the right to write a personal perception on a certain event in political, religious, and social issues involving high power organizations are criticized and challenged .. Who is it decides between the two and choose if this is possibly a post breaking the laws and that someone has crossed the line..

    It worries me to know, just how much we are monitored on a level where personal point of view and free thinking is carefully dissected by security agencies or intelligence to the point . For all we the public who use Facebook daily , without even knowing and i doubt that we would be informed of the possible scenario where individuals are placed on a Red Flags List .. and our personal lives become invaded .. am i to begin to think carefully on what i might write about if possible belief of my personal opinion could and might be reported as false fake and cause to create a larger unsettling of people that deems security breach or anti-government for example

  17. William 3 Bronze badge

    Deciding what is "fake" on behalf of others for their own protection.

    Is the primary aim of all Totalitarian regimes.

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