Thursday, December 15, 2016

More on Facebook and Fake News

On November 25, I posted a blog, "Mark Zuckerberg and Fake News," in which I addressed Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg's post on "fake news." I included this excerpt from his November 25 post:

“The problems here are complex, both technically and philosophically. We believe in giving people a voice, which means erring on the side of letting people share what they want whenever possible. We need to be careful not to discourage sharing of opinions or to mistakenly restrict accurate content. We do not want to be arbiters of truth ourselves, but instead rely on our community and trusted third parties.”

And I said: "Mr. Zuckerberg commendably outlines some measures Facebook itself is considering to address the fake news issue."

Now, in a December 15 post, "News Feed FYI: Addressing Hoaxes and Fake News," Adam Mosseri, VP, News Feed, offers some steps that Facebook is taking now to address "fake news." These steps include: easier reporting; flagging stories as disputed; informed sharing; and disrupting financial incentives for spammers.

Mr. Mosseri acknowledges that these are first steps, and that Facebook intends to learn from them and adjust accordingly if advisable.

As Mr. Zuckerberg said in November, "[t]he problems here are complex, both technically and philosophically." This certainly is true, it's why it makes sense, as Mr. Mosseri says, to approach the fake news problem carefully.

The steps that Facebook has announced seem reasonable, certainly on a trial basis so that their effect on users' experience can be gauged. It's important that Facebook and other similar platforms take the initiative themselves to consider means of addressing the problem of fake news in ways that are compatible with the vast majority of users they seek to attract and serve. If they don't, there may be calls, however misplaced, by some for the government to "just do something."

That would be terribly wrong. On this point, I'll just repeat what I said in my earlier post:

"As a matter of sound policy, the government should stay out of the business of evaluating the truthfulness of news, except, for example, in rare instances involving public health and safety. And as a matter of law, the First Amendment’s free speech clause demands no less."