Since the 2016 election, the media issue of fake news has become a major topic of discussion. Fake news are invalid news articles and coverage that are meant to stir controversy and spread false information. The media has played an extremely huge role in the development and spread of fake news, particularly Facebook. However, Facebook has adopted an interesting stance regarding their response to tackle fake news and although its users and the public have other opinions, Facebook’s obligations to itself and its users have created much controversy.
Facebook’s Stance on Fake News
The media has become very instrumental in spreading fake news. Facebook is one social media platform that has been notorious for spreading fake news and this is largely due to their stance. In the article “Facebook Takes on Fake News” published by Long Island Business News, they said “Facebook also takes its role to provide people an open platform very seriously, and it is not the company’s place to decide what is true and what is false” (The Associated Press 2016). Facebook prides itself on being an open platform where people can freely post their content and have their own creativity. They do not want to be a kind of internet police that will remove users’ content or ban them from using the platform despite if it is false or not unless reportedly breaking the law. This is especially important when compared to other popular social media sites that require their users to adhere to guideline and do remove content from some profiles. For example, YouTube had guidelines for their content creators and if they do not follow them and depending on the severity, their videos can be demonetized and taken down completely. This is one way that YouTube has created an open yet controlled social media environment. On the other hand, Facebook’s has created a far freer platform for their users. This interesting stance of not wanting to censor their information that users post, has created a lot of controversy because of the severity of it. Many users have realized the impact of media on daily lives. News spreads fast and when it is fake, scandalous or even more controversial, it seems to spread even faster and the effects can be very serious because it makes the media on a whole look very dishonest. However, given their stance, Facebook has created a plan in which they will try to combat fake news. According to the article, “Facebook Takes on Fake News”, “If enough people report a story as fake, Facebook will pass it to third-party fact-checking organizations” (The Associated Press 2016). The article goes on to mention that any news articles that do not pass an authenticity test will be “publicly flagged as disputed” (The Associated Press 2016). By doing this, Facebook will not be taking down content but rather notifying users on what could potentially be fake news content. Although Facebook is taking some sort of initiative, this fake news can still be shared, and it is not guaranteed that the spreading of fake news will stop as Mark Zuckerberg mentioned this goal was.
In the article “Communications and Community” the author discusses different ways of organizing communications within a society. One of them is a democratic communication system which encourages “maximum participation by all individuals in the society” and “belongs to the whole society” (Williams 1961). In many ways, Mark Zuckerberg can be viewed as trying to create this democratic communication system on Facebook. He refuses to censor individuals and their posts regardless if they are false or how much they might upset others because as the definition offers, a democratic communication system belongs to the people. Mark Zuckerberg might be trying to take these initiatives, but it might also be difficult, and it obviously has created problems to establish this democratic system online, for a society whom is not yet there on a whole. For a democratic system to even be successful online, we should first be able to see it present in society. In addition, although Facebook’s stance is to create a free and open platform that belongs to all their users, they also have a huge responsibility to them to give them access to safe, credible and reliable content.
An Ethical Obligation
Being such an influential social media platform with millions of users, Facebook has a responsibility and moral obligation to provide their users with a platform that offers safe and reliable information. Facebook can easily take down fake news posts or disable certain users to prevent the spread of fake news. However, to fight this issue, they have continuously stood by their stances to not remove content and judge what is true or not true. Instead, Facebook has partnered with other companies and websites to detect what articles are fake and flag them, so users are aware. However, although users will be aware, this will surely not prevent the spread or even the production of fake news. This current stance alone will not be enough to censor the spread of fake news. In a recent event, there was a fake news article published about the Holocaust, proclaiming it did not happened. Obviously, this post upset many users and people demanded that it be taken down. In a Huffington Post article entitled, “Mark Zuckerberg Says Facebook Won’t Remove Holocaust Denial Content” by Lydia O’Connor it mentioned that Zuckerberg stated that “Holocaust deniers are not “intentionally getting it wrong” while explaining why they won’t be policed on Facebook” (O’Connor 2018). This comment alone angered many people and stirred even more controversy surrounding Facebook and fake news. The article also mentioned that the “Anti-Defamation League CEO Jonathan Greenblatt stated that “Facebook has a moral and ethical obligation not to allow its dissemination” (O’Connor 2018). Facebook does indeed have this responsibility because they cannot claim to want to combat the spread of fake news yet refuse to remove the content. This goes back to Facebook’s stance. They cannot have the stance they currently do if they are going to refuse to take action. Facebook should either change their stance on fake news or take action because currently, Facebook is under a lot of heat and many of their users are unhappy.
The People’s Perceptions
In the recent months and years, Facebook has undergone a lot of scandals and scrutiny. Many people have become highly distrustful of Facebook because of numerous incidents. Because of the fake news articles that Facebook has become known to have, many people have become very distrustful and offended at some of the articles that Facebook will not remove, for example we saw this with the article denying the Holocaust. One might imagine, this has begun to have hugely negative effects on Facebook. According to the New York Times article, “Facebook Starts Paying the Price” written by Sheera Frenkel, in this year alone, Facebook has lost over 120 billion dollars in market value because of the accumulation of recent scandals (Frenkel 2018). Based in these statistics, it is obvious that Facebook has not only lost value but also its highly regarded reputation it once had. The article goes on to state that with the midterm elections coming near, the fake news issue will continue to rise so we will be very likely to see this controversy brought back into the spotlight. With this said, it is extremely important for users to be aware of how to detect fake news. Facebook unfortunately cannot stop people from creating fake news, but they can take measures to not only remove the fake news on their sites to stop the spread of it, but also educate their users on how to detect a fake news article when they see one.
It is important for users to be knowledgeable about this detection to further prevent the spread of it. According to the Newmark’s Journalism School’s, “Fake New Detection Checklist” individuals should be aware of certain criteria when reading an article to detect whether it is fake or authentic. This includes things like knowing who is saying this information, where they are getting it from, and if the same news turns up on other sites, amongst other criteria. Carl Sagan also mentioned in the article, “The Fine Art of Baloney Detection” that to recognize a reasoned versus fraudulent argument was that “wherever possible, there must be independent confirmation of the facts” (Sagan). Individuals should be able to find related information to an article or claim. However, unless people are going out of their way to learn how to detect fake news, many users are unaware of these criteria to keep in mind and pay attention to. In the chaos of fake news and Facebook, the company could have taken initiatives to alert users on a simple checklist on what to look out for when reading news articles. Once again, they have an obligation to their users but also this will show that the company is hearing the concerns of their users and taking methods of action.
Fake news has become a hugely scandalous topic for Facebook. As Mark Zuckerberg said, Facebook’s stance on this issue is that they will not censor users in their platform buy try to instead stop the spread of it. Although this is a huge decision and move, this has not only left Facebook in hot waters but also people with many questions. Facebook being the large company it is, has an obligation to their users and to itself. There are many actions Facebook can and should take to ensure fake news will stop spreading and their users are protected like educating their users on how to detect fake news or changing their stance so that fake news posts can be removed.