In the wake of one of the most tumultuous election cycles in recent memory, many people are criticizing social media outlets – namely Facebook – for not doing enough to weed out obviously fake news articles that could have potentially impacted people’s votes. This is a claim that Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg has been quick to dismiss, but many remain skeptical.
But one of the biggest newsmakers in the past several years, Edward Snowden, says fake news isn’t necessarily the issue here.
Speaking at Fusion’s Real Future Fair via a BeamBot from Russia, the former NSA employee turned whistleblower said the fact that fake news is available on Facebook isn’t so much of a problem, but the bigger issue is that Facebook is the only news source for many people.
“There seems to be no alternative to the larger services. Because of this network effect, because the first mover advantage. When you get a Google or a Facebook or Twitter in place, they never seem to leave,” Snowden said, pointing to a lack of competition as a cause for the problem.
It’s even more troublesome when you consider that the majority of people share and comment on stories shared on social media sites like Facebook without actually reading them. If people consumed news from multiple sources, he argued, it would be much easier to tell the fake from the real. In other words, stop relying on Facebook for your news.
“To have one company that has enough power to reshape the way we think, I don’t think I need to describe how dangerous that is,” he said.
Snowden’s answer? Making sure that one, singular platform doesn’t play such a dominant role in people’s lives. When people rely on one source, it’s easy for misinformation to spread (since there’s nothing to back it up against). Instead, Snowden proposed a “federated system” of sorts, or a network of many Facebooks all connected. That way, one outlying bit of information would easily be lost in a sea of truthful information that’s repeated over and over.
Facebook itself is addressing the controversy by announcing they plan to ban fake news outlets from their ad network, cutting off the revenue source for these sites that try to make money on their blog by peddling lies.
Snowden’s comments echoed those of Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg, who said that it’s “extremely unlikely hoaxes changed the outcome of this election in one direction or the other.” Snowden did add though, that if false news on social media actually impacted this election, it’s “a very sad indictment of our democracy that our voters could be so easily misled” and “One company shouldn’t have the power to reshape the way we think.”
Looking for a bright spot in all of this? A recent study found that 33% of Facebook users want less news in their feeds. Perhaps some are starting to realize that relying on Facebook as a sole source of news isn’t the best idea.
And what does all of this mean for my fellow bloggers and reporters? We all need to be better. Whether you’re just starting a blog or you’re a reporter at a major news outlet, let’s all do our part to ensure we’re providing the most accurate information possible to our readers.
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