Facebook and Google have been forced to target the publishers of fake news after it was revealed the two tech giants spread falsehoods and lies to millions of users during the US election.
Facebook chief executive Mark Zuckerberg was swift to reject claims that thousands of spurious articles on the social media site helped to get Donald Trump elected, saying it was “extremely unlikely” news hoaxes changed the outcome of the presidential race.
But his organisation and Google have since taken steps to cut off advertising revenues to sites which publish mock articles linked to current news. The false news websites use online ads to earn money and fund the creation of the fake stories.
In public statements, Mr Zuckerberg first defended Facebook against the criticisms, but later acknowledged that the company would need to do more to prevent fabricated news from proliferating on the world’s largest social media site.
“Of all the content on Facebook, more than 99 per cent of what people see is authentic,” he said, noting the network’s goal is to “give every person a voice”.
“[But] our goal is to show people the content they will find most meaningful, and people want accurate news.”
Despite Mr Zuckerberg’s strong defence, a spokesman has since announced that sites which publish misleading, illegal or deceptive material would be banned from using Facebook’s advertising network.
It mirrors the action taken by Google after it was revealed that the top article for the search term ‘final election result’ pointed readers to a fake news site.
“Moving forward, we will 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,” a Google spokesman said in a statement.
Mr Zuckerberg’s comments were not well received inside Facebook, with reports emerging on Tuesday that a group of concerned employees had formed an unofficial taskforce to tackle him over the issue.
The New Daily asked Facebook to confirm the existence of the group and for details of their concerns, but a response was not received prior to publication.
It is a difficult issue for the company because its entire business is built on the content created by its 1.6 billions users. Its algorithm for placing an article into users’ so-called “newsfeed” places a higher priority on relevance than accuracy, but Facebook does restrict content based on other criteria, including nudity.
Facebook staff are rebelling against content from sites like The Global Sun, a hoax website with a focus on US and Canadian politics.
The stories are written in a news-like style that initially appear factual, but according to a legal disclaimer that’s only accessible via a small link at the very bottom of the home page, the website is satirical and “all articles contained within this website, however similar to real events, are fictitious”.
On Facebook, The Global Sun has over 26,000 likes and is listed as a media/news company that makes no mention of satire on its ‘About’ page. Many of the commenters appear unaware that the headlines are fake.
University of Queensland journalism and computer science lecturer Dr Daniel Angus said some “trolls” made fake news for fun, but others did it with a political purpose.
“Some put it out on the internet as a form of persuasive communication, to try to sway or sow seeds of doubt in people’s mind about the character of an individual, or group,” Dr Angus said.
“Some can be forms of astroturfing, where the story is constructed by lobby groups or other professional or political organisations, to try to attempt to discredit someone.”
-additional reporting by Finn Houlihan, ABC