How often have you been hearing about the epidemic of “fake news” in the media lately? If you’re like most news junkies, you probably can’t get away from it.
It seems that every day, we’re being told that “fake news” is a huge problem that must be dealt with. There are many on the left who blame “fake news” for the election of President-elect Donald Trump. There are those on the right who say this new obsession with fake news is yet another excuse the left has given for losing the election.
When it comes to the spreading of fake news, social media giant Facebook has been the main target for criticism. They have been blamed for allowing fake news to unduly influence the Presidential election. As a matter of fact the German government is considering imposing fines against Facebook for each fake news story that is shared.
In response, Facebook has agreed to begin implementing processes designed to weed out fake news stories. They have partnered with several different fact checking organizations. These organizations include:
- Washington Post Fact Checkers
There are many that are concerned with Facebook’s fact checking choices. Conservatives, especially, are concerned that these fact checkers will be unfairly biased against news stories that promote a conservative point of view.
Facebook’s process of identifying fake news is going to include its users and its fact checking partners. It will be designed to label and limit any news story that is deemed to be fake.
Here is how the process will work:
- When a reader sees a news story they believe to be false, they can flag it.
- After being flagged, the story will be sent to one of the third party fact checking organizations.
- If the organization decides that the news story is fake, it will be marked as “disputed.”
- When a story is flagged as “disputed,” future readers will see the flag and will also be provided with a link to an article that explains the reason behind the flag.
Stories that are flagged will be pushed lower in news feeds. This is designed to lower the chances that a potential reader will see it.
The Issues With Facebook’s Fact Checking Policy
The main opponents of Facebook’s new policy are conservatives. They assert that fact checkers Facebook plans to use have a long history of being biased against conservatives. This year, it came out that Facebook itself had been burying conservative content.
Liberal Bias In The Fact Checking Circle
It’s easy to see why conservatives would be concerned about potential bias. The organizations that Facebook is partnering with are made up of predominantly liberal journalists.
In particular, PolitiFact has drawn criticism several times because of instances where they showed bias.
Donald Trump And The Crime Rate
In 2015, Donald Trump stated that the crime rate was rising. In response, PolitiFact gave him a “pants on fire” rating. Their rationale for this was based on government data from 1993 to 2014. This data showed that the crime rate had steadily declined.
On the surface, this makes sense. However, there was another study in 2015 that showed that the crime rate was beginning to rise again. One could argue that PolitiFact purposely used a study that supported their position while ignoring data that contradicted it.
Mitt Romney And Obama’s Apology Tour
In 2012, Republican Presidential candidate MItt Romney criticized President Obama for going on an “apology tour” in the Middle East. He believed, as did many, that the President was weakening the country in the eyes of our enemies.
In response, PolitiFact interviewed three “apology experts.” These experts on apologies stated that Obama was not apologizing for the United States’ actions in the Middle East. Because of the statements of these apology experts, Romney was rated as “pants on fire.”
Interestingly enough, PolitiFact completely disregarded the statements of a fourth expert: foreign policy expert Nile Gardiner. Gardiner excoriated the President for his approach to the Middle East.
The real issue is this: it’s a matter of opinion. The problem with PolitiFact’s rating is that Romney’s comments shouldn’t have been rated in the first place. You can’t fact check an opinion.
HIllary Clinton’s Email Server Scandal
Criticisms of PolitiFact don’t just center on its tendency to treat conservatives more harshly. It’s also directed at their penchant for going easier on liberals.
When Presidential candidate Hillary Clinton claimed that she didn’t send classified information over email, PolitiFact rated this statement as “half true.” This rating was given before the FBI investigation was completed.
To their credit, when the FBI found that Clinton had sent classified information, PolitiFact changed their rating. Of course, there have been other situations where PolitiFact has been seen as biased.
Fake News and the Election
Did the spread of fake news really have an influence on the election? There’s no credible evidence that shows that it did.
Facebook’s Founder and CEO Mark Zuckerberg says that fake news didn’t have the influence the media says it did. He has stated that people underestimated the impact of Donald Trump’s message to the American people.
While fake news is an annoying trend, it’s effects seem to have been largely overblown by the media. Will Facebook’s new policies be unfairly biased against conservatives? We don’t know yet. But their actions will show what their real intentions are.