By Alex Trumble
In 2004 Facebook was launched as a social media platform (technology company if you ask Zuckerberg) and since then we have all had sweet fun times posting flattering photos of ourselves and writing heartfelt happy birthday messages to relatives who we refuse to add as a friend. Cause we’re caring like that.
In 2017, the premise of Facebook is changing. It has become a glorious, multifaceted platform that connects millions of users across the world and not only this. It gives them a place to voice their opinions (don’t worry, the irony of me writing an ‘opinion’ piece is not lost on me).
Sure, it is still used as a personal highlight reel and the perfect place to make all of your friends jealous of your European holiday. However, how information is being processed, and the platform is being used has changed and this now places a huge level of responsibility on Facebook and social media in general’s shoulders.
In a recent study from Pew Research Center found that two thirds of U.S adults are getting their news through some form of social media. Now perhaps this isn’t very surprising to you until we break the numbers down a bit more. 55% of Americans who are over 50, a generation who has been stoically clutching their flat media like it was the passport to heaven, are now getting their news through social media, a 10% rise in 1 year! All the while this figure increases to a whopping 78% for under 50’s.
What I find interesting is that social media has largely been responsible for the spread of Donald Trump’s favourite, ‘Fake News’. Now I hear you saying “That’s all good, I’ve got my head screwed on straight and a piece of paper with squiggly writing on it that says I am university educated and thus somewhat intelligent. I can tell the difference…”
A Stanford study of the 2016 Election found that:
1) the most popular fake news stories were more widely shared on Facebook than the most popular mainstream news stories (Silverman 2016);
2) many people who see fake news stories report that they believe them (Silverman and Singer-Vine 2016)
So, are we being part of the solution or maybe the problem? Facebook to their credit has started to roll out a fact checking system at the end of 2016 that flags whether an article is being ‘disputed’ by users or publications and is then audited by Facebook. Cue the guy from high school who used to tell you that the cloning of Dolly the sheep was the beginning of the end for human kind and how the government is crushing our freedom of speech. He and his keyboard warrior buddies are about to come and ruin everyone’s day.
The below article was posted by the Newport Buzz and was publicly labelled as ‘disputed’. You can read it here and I will let you be the judge if it is fake news or not. Now instead of the article being avoided or removed, a group of conservatives decided that Facebook was attempting to silence the blog and shared the hell out of the story increasing its reach and perpetuating the story!
As you can see people, we are in a bit of a predicament… We want our news to be real and trustworthy, but we also don’t want to be told what to do or what to believe.
So what happens from here? Does Facebook become the keeper of all things and remove articles that it ‘believes’ are fake? They already do it with explicit images so why not articles? Good idea in theory but who polices the police? Or; Do they just open up the flood gates and let everything through?
While I believe I am capable of discerning between real and fake news, there are other out there who do actually believe the world is flat and if two people of the same sex get married the world is going to implode on itself. So far Facebook’s efforts have been weak at best, but something needs to be done. Perpetuating news that is false is a serious problem that is already having consequences on our society. Many believe that Trump would not have won the 2016 election if it wasn’t for the flood of fake news that portrayed Clinton in a negative light had not been perpetuated by Facebook.
Now before you go and get your tin foil hat and living in a trailer on the outskirts of Meekatharra, I don’t think the most influential company is going to let itself be dictated by extremist groups.
But perhaps, think before you press the old share button?