It appears that Mark Zuckerberg is the only person that believes his Facebook news feed overhaul is going to work.
In light of the flak hurled at Mark Zuckerberg and his company towards their contribution to the proliferation of fake and misleading news on Facebook, Zuckerberg announced two major changes that will come to our news feeds this month.
Firstly, Facebook will deprioritize posts from media outlets and publishers and instead, bring up posts from the user’s family and friends to encourage more “meaningful” interaction. The more recent update came from a Facebook post by Mark Zuckerberg detailing how they will now ask users to determine whether a news source is trustworthy or not.
According to Zuckerberg’s post, users will be asked in a survey to determine whether one, they are familiar with a specific news source; and two, if they deem the source trustworthy. This will then contribute to determining if a certain news source is credible or not and if it will be eliminated from Facebook’s priority algorithm.
While crowdsourcing has become a popular phenomenon in the recent years, especially on Facebook where the users are seemingly king, many experts believe that Zuckerberg’s plan to leave it in the consumers’ hands will not solve Facebook’s problem.
In an interview with Al Jazeera, technology analyst Larry Magid said that the results from this system will only mirror preferences and prejudice of users, instead of the credibility of news sites.
“Simply because something is well liked by a percentage of the public, doesn’t mean it’s reliable. There are people who love news sites that are objectively untrue – that doesn’t require an opinion, that’s something you can establish by fact.”
Many social media experts and media practitioners echo Magid’s sentiment’s about the reliability of the Facebook users’ judgment. Among them are Matt Navarra, head of social media at The Next Web, and Heather Kelly, CNN tech reporter, who have both aired their skepticism about Zuckerberg’s news feed plan.
Last week, Roger McNamee also voiced his opinion about Zuckerberg’s Facebook plans via the Washington Post. An early investor in Google and Facebook, and a former mentor to Zuckerberg, McNamee asks Zuckerberg and Facebook to admit that the problem lies in their algorithm of “giving users only what they want.”
“The problem cannot be fixed by hiring contractors to review problematic posts. The company needs to change the priorities of its algorithms and retool its business model,” McNamee adds.
At the end of the day, by giving users the freedom to choose what they want, Facebook might even be exacerbating the problem because these same people who contribute to the virality of fake news and media will be the same people curating the news feed and determining the credibility of news sources.
One of the classic examples of how the Facebook users are the ones putting the fake news on their feeds is the recent fake news fiasco that gripped the Philippines under President Rodrigo Duterte’s reign.
Last year, the Philippine government appointed a blogger and a famous sexy star named Mocha Uson as the administration’s communications assistant secretary. Mocha Uson has been notorious on Facebook for posting and promoting fake news–and Filipino Facebook users acknowledge that.
Some of her most notorious fake news posts were documented by Filipino media outlet Inquirer, including a post that claims a young girl was a victim of drug abuse that was made during the height of the drug war efforts of the Duterte administration. The BBC, however, called her out because the girl in the photo was actually a Brazilian 9-year-old who was assaulted in 2014.
Another Facebook post by Mocha claimed that a Filipino Catholic school forced its students to join a rally condemning the honorable burial of a late Filipino dictator, whose reign was riddled by corruption controversies and cost many Filipino lives. This, however, was not true and was confirmed by the underage students she condemned in her post.
But despite Uson’s notoriety for posting fake news, a lot of Filipinos still stand behind her and even contribute to the spreading of fake news by sharing her posts. Despite the fact that many of her posts were proven to have no basis and were made-up lies, she was even granted several government posts and awarded several recognitions.
If Zuckerberg’s system were to put credibility judgment in the hands of the Facebook users, experts believe the problem will only continue to persist, if not worsen. It is also very likely that we will only see more “news sources” like Mocha Uson dominating the news feeds.