It’s almost been a week since Hillary Clinton lost the election to a racist cheese doodle, and people are looking for someone to blame. Recently, the world turned its eyes to Mark Zuckerberg and Facebook for some answers about false news stories that began circulating about Clinton only a few days before November 8th.
One such post which gained hundreds of thousands of shares was titled “FBI AGENT SUSPECTED IN HILLARY EMAIL LEAKS FOUND DEAD IN APPARENT MURDER-SUICIDE” and was posted by the Denver Guardian on November 5th. It’s a powerful headline: it touches on Clinton’s sorest talking point in the election, brings a normally trustworthy government agency under question, and it gets shock points for using words like “dead” and “murder-suicide”.
There’s just one tiny problem…the Denver Guardian doesn’t exist. The website the story came from was created on GoDaddy in July 2016 and that post was the only article on the entire website.
This is just one of dozens of misleading or false stories that circulated during the election, but I hear your question: why is it such a big deal? It’s Facebook, everybody knows that people posting on Facebook tend to be a bit dramatic to get likes and shares.
Well, that’s exactly the problem. Facebook is not categorized as a media platform but rather as a tech enterprise, which means Facebook is not responsible for monitoring news content that users post. Outlets like CNN, NPR, Huffingtonpost, etc, all abide by a code of ethics before they post news. The stories have to be fact checked at least once before being published, and most will be fact checked again two or three times after the story has been uploaded to the Internet.
On Facebook, that’s not a requirement. Nobody has to vet sources, nobody has to fact-check who said what, and nobody controls which stories end up in the trending section at the top of the page. In fact, the trending section is controlled strictly by an algorithm that calculates what key words are being used most in the moment and creates a trending page that caters to those key words – whether they’re true or not.
The problem with this is that Facebook is the number one source of news for Americans, and it does frequently provide accurate news. Outlets like CNN and Huffington Post share their articles to Facebook to boost their reader count, so we’ve grown accustomed to treating Facebook like it’s a viable source of information when in fact it was never designed for that purpose.
The final takeaway is simple: we can’t stab fingers at Facebook and blame the platform for throwing the election. Facebook never sold itself as a place of honesty, never advertised itself as a credible news source, and is technically not responsible for monitoring the content its users choose to share as long as they don’t break any laws under the terms of agreement. If we want to look for people to blame, then look at the people who shared the content without fact-checking it first. Look at the people who bought into the lies and fearmongering instead of thinking about credibility first. Ignorance was the death of Clinton’s campaign, lovely readers, nothing more.