Last month, I wrote extensively about Facebook’s problem with Donald Trump or, more specifically, Facebook’s problem with the truth. The algorithm of the news site ignores the veracity of a story and distributes it through newsfeeds based on its popularity, which is a fairly good summation of the entire Donald Trump campaign. Among our illustrious commentariat, the article was met with some resistance. I’m paraphrasing here, but there were several comments along the lines of “FUCK YOU ROWLES FACEBOOK DON’T OWE YOU NOTHING.”
And then Trump won the Presidency, and suddenly, people were looking for someone to blame, and then there were a proliferation of pieces blaming Facebook for spreading inaccurate — or just plain fake — news stories, and suddenly people were like, FUCK YOU ZUCKERBERG YOU ARE PART OF THE PROBLEM AND NOW GOEBBELS 2.0 IS IN THE WHITE HOUSE.
Now even Zuckerberg is starting to question Facebook’s role in the spread of misinformation, and though he has not yet vowed to kill fake news on the social network, he has decided that Facebook will no longer allow Facebook advertisements on fake news sites. When there is less of a financial incentive for someone to write, say, that the Pope endorsed Donald Trump, many of those fake news sites will hopefully get out of the business because obviously they’re not in it to sway political opinion, they are only in it for the money. Right?
Let’s hope so, anyway. Meanwhile, Google has decided to make a similar change, one they have been contemplating for months, but apparently they couldn’t pull the trigger on the change WHEN IT MATTERED. They will also “restrict ad serving on pages that misrepresent, misstate or conceal information about the publisher, the publisher’s content or the primary purpose of the web property.”
Unfortunately, neither Google nor Facebook has yet vowed to modify their algorithms to prevent fake news from trending on Facebook or gaining a high position in Google search results. Google’s problem was highlighted this week when the search term “final election vote count 2016” resulted in a top search result with a fake news story showing that Donald Trump won the popular vote. I will concede that it’s still difficult to teach an algorithm to discern facts, so for now we’ll have to settle for fake news sites losing financial incentive.