It was bound to happen: Facebook needed do something to escape the awkward impasse it found itself in after the American presidential election. Even before the candidature of Trump, fake news started to spread like wildfire. First it was the referendum on Italian constitutional reform. Then the shock of Brexit. And finally, Hillary Clinton’s defeat.
Let’s be clear. There’s no solid proof, but there’s enough evidence to blow smoke in our eyes–even those of Mark Zuckerberg. Not only has he publicly denied any accusation of involvement, but he’s worked day and night on a program that will verify information: the Facebook Journalism Project.
Facebook Journalism Project: a 3-step plan
As explained in a long post by Fidji Simo, Facebook’s Director of Product, the Facebook Journalism Project is a “hub for journalists and publishers to learn and share”. The project is broken down into 3 phases: actively collaborate in the production of information; supply training and development tools to journalists; and educate users and promote news literacy. The goal is clear: to make sure “that a healthy news ecosystem and journalism can thrive,” by investing in projects that promote news literacy.
The fight against fake news continues
Let’s take a step back and try to understand what is meant by ‘fake news’, the real driving force behind the Facebook Journalism Project. To put it bluntly, fake news is a hoax–a con.
But in reality, the issue is a bit more complex.
Can we call it a con when ad hoc news is created and published on fake sites just to generate traffic? Absolutely! One notable example was when 2 teens from the Macedonian city of Veles launched dozens of Facebook pages and rather shoddy news sites (fake of course!) in the middle of the American presidential campaigns, all in support of Trump. The reason was simple, according to Buzzfeed: the young webmasters had discovered that “the best way to generate traffic is to get their politics stories to spread on Facebook — and the best way to generate shares on Facebook is to publish sensationalist and often false content that caters to Trump supporters.”
Can we call incorrect reports ‘fake news’? Of course we can! News that’s unverified, imprecise or manipulated (and even the biggest-name papers are of guilty of this) is fake news for all intents and purposes.
It’s a pretty contentious term. Luckily, it’s coming up against Margaret Sullivan, media editor of the Washington Post, who didn’t hold back when she took it to Twitter, saying, “the term ‘fake news’ has had its 1 minutes of fame. Real problem; tainted label. Let’s retire it”.
Facebook: social network or media company?
In any case, fake news is a real problem – at least for Mark Zuckerberg, who just last week made his triumphant announcement about the Facebook Journalism Project. For the moment, it’s just talk with very little to show yet, aside from CrowdTangle, a recently acquired tool for analyzing interaction data on social media. This platform tracks down the hottest topics on social media, measures the success of posts, and identifies social media influencers.
So beyond Zuckerberg’s actions (or reactions?) in response to accusations of facilitating false information; beyond the controversy of the improper use of fake news, there’s just one question that remains: can Facebook effectively be considered a media company? After all, its Newsfeed, the mega-logarithm that tracks our habits, essentially ‘decides’ what to let us read or not!
But that’s not all. According to the Facebook Journalism Project, a select (and not well-defined) team of editors and journalists known as the ‘Third-Party Verification’ will put millions of news stories under their microscopes as they’re shared on the platform, and decide what to keep and what to toss. It’s not just dealing with a new section of the network (and it would be a huge mistake to underestimate their capacity) but a true partnership between social media and information.
Without getting lost in the rhetoric, but not without fear, we need to really think about that sacred and fundamental right to the freedom of information – because at the center of the debate on information today is not the directors of the Guardian or the New York Times, but a former Harvard student.
People Watcher, Marketer, Mum. La mia insaziabile curiosità nella vita chiede di essere accompagnata da altrettanto forte intensità nel lavoro. Per questo scrivo.