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There has been a lot of debate over the past year about the prevalence of fake news. It all started with Donald Trump declaring his detractors “fake news” and now everyone calls the news they dislike fake and the terms has lost its meaning.
Facebook announced that it would be taking preventative measures to stop fake news spreading via Russian spammers on its site. They are putting more effort into the news sidebar, instead of automating it, and they are spending more time trying to ban any accounts perceived as being either from Russians or fake accounts. Many—especially the mainstream media—are under the impression Russians, also known as Putinbots, were able to sway the Election by promoting untrue news that swayed voters in favor of Donald Trump over Hillary Clinton. There’s been a lot of debate over the role of these fake Russian accounts in manipulating voters, or even if their efforts had any results.
The truth is: Facebook doesn’t care. As long as they keep you on their site, they really don’t care how you’re doing it. If you’re liking, sharing and clicking, you’re giving Facebook the money they need for their advertisers to flourish. If the advertisers are happy, Facebook is happy. There’s a popular saying: If you’re not paying, you’re the product. Certainly, if you pay for a product, it doesn’t automatically mean you’ll be treated as more than a series of numbers, but Facebook doesn’t care about you unless you’re helping provide them with the money they need to survive.
If you’re handing over your hard-earned cash so you can keep your farm thriving on MafiaFarmSlots, then that’s great! But Facebook wants more of your money. Oh, you don’t have money? How about your time? Time is invaluable, and the ethicists and brains behind Facebook want your time, so they can turn it into revenue. That’s why their algorithms are specifically designed so you only view agreeable content. Ever noticed you never see your full friends list and list of pages on your Newsfeed? That’s not because you like over 100,000 pages—including those awkward ones about If this page gets 10,000 likes I’ll name my daughter Megatron and Eclectic Memes for Awful Teens—it’s because Facebook specifically decides to put the ones it deems most important onto your Newsfeed. Those are the ones that keep you hooked to the Facebook machine.
Why does this matter in relation to fake news? Because Facebook’s algorithms only work in such a way that this fake news about Trump and Clinton only reached those who it deemed relevant. The fake news that criticized Hillary Clinton was more likely to reach pro-Republican users. Voters who already leaned towards Democrats were more likely to disregard this news and deem it “Fox News-worthy”, i.e. irrelevant.
If Russian scammers swayed the United States Election, they were likely only manipulating people who weren’t going to vote Hillary Clinton anyway. For the most part, this stuff about Russians hacking the election just sound likes conspiracy woo-woo that’s somehow made it into the mainstream because Russians are scary. It’s still possible John Podesta accidentally clicked on a link from one those Russian scammers (the ones advertising unread messages p*ssy grab) and is still too embarrassed to admit it. These spam messages were incredibly prevalent in 2016, and only had the aim of infecting your computer with malware and cryptolockers.
Of course, since we’re living in an era of social media echo chambers, many people will believe the most outrageous news, even if it’s obviously fake, because it fits into their worldview. Facebook doesn’t care, unless the stuff is provably harmful (or they receive enough mass report requests), because they don’t want to join the internet graveyard that consists of forgotten social media sites like MySpace, Bebo and LiveJournal. When actual fake news—whether by Russian spammers or clickbait hacks—runs amok, they’ll only do what promotes their own interests.
Don’t think that Facebook cares about stopping widespread disinformation, if such disinformation is as rife as the mainstream media implies. They’re only doing this because they know it’ll keep you hooked into the Facebook slot machine. This is not to say Facebook is some evil conglomerate worthy of LexCorp or Cyberdyne Systems.
Social media is essential for the modern era, but we should remember to take what we read with a grain of salt. You never know what Fake News is lurking around the Facebook corner. Facebook certainly doesn’t care.