Fake News, False Information, and Stupid Polls
Facebook uses an algorithm to decide what you see. It’s proprietary but my guess it’s optimized to keep you on Facebook for as long as possible.
This wouldn’t be a problem but becomes one when we realize that people get their news from Facebook.
When you optimize to something, and when you ignore something else, that other thing can be expected to balloon beyond recognition. We’ve seen that with ballooning tuition for colleges because of the US News & World Report, for example.
In this example, the thing Facebook has ignored is “truth.” The result is a proliferation of fake news:
Beyond simply fake news, there’s tons of hyper partisan articles that make use of false information. These pseudo-news sites have popped up simply to exist on Facebook and to game the Facebook algorithm.
When Facebook started 12 years ago, there was a much healthier journalism industry. It’s now much less healthy, in no small part because of the ad dollars that now pour into Facebook. What will another 12 years bring? I’m worried that we won’t have real news anymore even if we search for it.
This is bad for democracy, because people are constantly being misinformed or hysterically informed. It’s pushing people further into their corners, or pushing them off of Facebook and politics entirely.
Finally, the polling conversations are out of hand. We tune into our favorite radio shows to hear about policy and instead we hear about poll numbers, or even worse, debates between poll watchers about whose poll is more accurate. That’s not news.
We have obsessed over the college educated white Iowan women’s vote for long enough, and we need to enter a new phase where we discuss actual issues. Leave the polling to campaigns. Mona said it best:
What can we do?
Here are some ideas that might help a little but won’t solve everything. Tell me yours.
- Facebook absolutely must acknowledge its role in the spread of misinformation. They need to act as editors. This will take an army of workers, but there are plenty of journalists who are looking for jobs, and Facebook makes tons of money, so there’s no actual problem besides the will of Facebook.
- Beyond that, Facebook needs to redesign its algorithm so that people don’t only see things they already agree with. This echo chamber (or “filter bubble,” as Eli Pariser described it in his 2011 book) has had a terrible effect on political partisanship. We’ve ended up thinking people who don’t agree with us are actually bad people. Facebook should redesign its platform so that we talk and listen to each other more.
- We need to demand that media stop fixating on polls. If we can’t outlaw them, at the very least we can complain and move our attention to real information.