Mark Zuckerberg: Facebook Will Tackle Fake News As It Did Click Bait

Apr 12, 2017

Mark Zuckerberg has come around.

The Facebook CEO weathered immense criticism for his site's dissemination of fake news during the U.S. presidential election last year. After initially dismissing the suggestion of a problem, Zuckerberg began to take the scourge more seriously.

Facebook announced partnerships with fact-checkers in the U.S., such as Snopes and PolitiFact; striking similar deals with news organizations, like Agence France Presse and Correctiv, in France and Germany, respectively; and introducing tools to allow people to dispute the veracity of news items appearing on the site's News Feed.

Despite the challenge ahead, Zuckerberg remains undaunted. In an interview with Robert Safian, editor of Fast Company, Zuckerberg addressed the boom of falsities on the social network, and provided an example for how he plans to approach the issue.

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When asked about his reaction to the spread of fake news, Zuckerberg drew a comparison to the way Facebook (fb), in years past, rooted out overly sensationalized stories, also known as "click bait"—an initiative he generally deemed a success.

In Zuckerberg's view, according to Fast Company, tackling click bait required a rejiggering of the site's algorithms, as assisted by users' input. The solution is similar to the approach the site is now taking to improve the situation around "information diversity or misinformation or building common ground"—euphemisms for the more popular conceptions of "filter bubbles," "fake news," and "echo chambers."

"Now it’s not gone a hundred percent but it’s a much smaller problem than it used to be," Zuckerberg told the magazine.

Ironically, one could regard fake news and misinformation as varieties of click bait, albeit ones demonstrating an even more cavalier disregard for truth. Each preys on people's biases with specious content (and propaganda), usually for financial or political reasons.

In the Q&A, Zuckerberg also refuted the notion that Facebook has permitted fake news to flourish for some business reason of its own (though there's no disputing the site has been on a tear recently).

"It’s not like they are problems that exist because there’s some kind of underlying, nefarious motivation," he added.

There is a constant tension, Zuckerberg noted, when it comes to balancing free speech as a core corporate value with local interests among the nearly 2 billion people the site serves. He highlighted nudity, for example, as cause of much controversy.

"There are very different cultural norms ranging from country to country," Zuckerberg said "In some places, the idea that showing a woman’s breasts would be controversial feels backwards. But there are other places where images that are at all sexually suggestive, even if they don’t show nudity, just because of a pose, that’s over the line."

"This is a tricky part of running this company," Zuckerberg continued. "In setting the nudity policy, for example, we are not trying to impose our values on folks, we’re trying to reflect what the community thinks."

Zuckerberg said that his team does not wish to be the ultimate arbiter when it comes to setting such standards.

"We have come to this realization that a bunch of people sitting in a room in California is not going to be the best way to reflect all the local values that people have around the world," he said. "So we need to evolve the systems for collective decision making. It’s an interesting problem."

"It's just a constant work in progress," he added.

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