By MediaStreet Staff Writers
Fake news was “both widely shared and heavily tilted in favour of Donald Trump” in the 2016 U.S. presidential election, according to a March 2017 NYU/Stanford study. Their database detected 115 pro-Trump fake stories shared on Facebook 30 million times, and 41 pro-Clinton fake stories shared 7.6 million times. Nearly a quarter of web content shared on Twitter by users in the battleground state of Michigan during the final days of last year’s U.S. election campaign was fake news, according to a University of Oxford study.
These are mind-boggling statistics.
Facebook and Alphabet Inc. (the parent company of Google) are now currently under pressure. The perception is that they have not done enough to curb the online epidemic of “fake news.” And shareholders are starting to worry. They are pressing for Facebook and Alphabet Inc. to issue detailed reports.
Investment advisor Arjuna Capital engaged both companies to evaluate the impact that fabricated content is having on their platforms and business. Arjuna Capital is an investment firm focused on sustainable and impact investing.
Natasha Lamb, managing partner at Arjuna Capital, said: “Fake news is not about spin or confirmation bias – It’s about fabrication. And when fabrication is disseminated so easily at scale, the way we have seen through social media, it represents a threat to our democracy. If Facebook maintains a platform of confusion and distortion it will lose the trust of its users, in which case they will simply move on to the next thing. And that’s what concerns long-term investors. We need to know this is being handled responsibly over time. It will not be solved through a simple algorithm tweak or better user education—those are merely pieces of a larger puzzle. Right now, we think the issue is being fumbled.”
Michael Connor, executive director of Open MIC, a non-profit organisation that works with investors on media and technology issues said: “Issues like fake news and hate speech aren’t going to go away any time soon – and Facebook’s responses to them thus far are perfect examples of too little, too late. The company needs to start reporting regularly – and in a consistent fashion – about the impact its policies and practices have on billions of Facebook users all around the globe.”
According to Pew, 64 percent of U.S. adults say fabricated news stories cause a great deal of confusion about the basic facts of current issues and events. The confusion cuts across political lines: 57 percent of Republicans say completely made-up news causes a great deal of confusion compared to 64 percent of Democrats.
Fake news is a problem. But since the beginning of news media, there has always been a problem with subjective bias. Are we ever going to be able to argue that some news, any news, is more genuine than other news? Probably not.