My dad liked to say that there are lies, damn lies and statistics. A Buzzfeed investigative report shows something a little different: lies, damn lies and Facebook’s phony news sites. Buzzfeed analyzed the Facebook pages of three left-wing, three right-wing and three mainstream news sites. They found lies in almost 20 percent of the left-wing pages’ posts and 38 percent of the right-wing pages’ posts. Even worse, they found that “the least accurate pages generated some of the highest numbers of shares, reactions, and comments on Facebook — far more than the three large mainstream political news pages analyzed for comparison.”
About two months ago, I wrote a series of articles on phony news sites, hoaxes and outright lies, and satire. I’m writing now because Buzzfeed’s careful and well-documented research documents what I said then, and what the New York Times called Facebook’s (Totally Insane, Unintentionally Gigantic, Hyperpartisan) Political-Media Machine. The Time describes the Facebook news pages as
“political news and advocacy pages made specifically for Facebook, uniquely positioned and cleverly engineered to reach audiences exclusively in the context of the news feed. These are news sources that essentially do not exist outside of Facebook, and you’ve probably never heard of them. They have names like Occupy Democrats; The Angry Patriot; US Chronicle; Addicting Info; RightAlerts; Being Liberal; Opposing Views; Fed-Up Americans; American News; and hundreds more. Some of these pages have millions of followers; many have hundreds of thousands.”
These pages, Buzzfeed finds, are “a constant source of dubious, misleading, or completely false information.” Worse, they influence not only our opinions, but also our attitudes toward one another and toward our democratic system:
“The bottom line is that people who regularly consume information from these pages — especially those on the right — are being fed false or misleading information.
“The nature of the falsehoods is important to note. They often take the form of claims and accusations against people, companies, police, movements such as Black Lives Matter, Muslims, or “liberals” or “conservatives” as a whole. They drive division and polarization. And in doing so, they generate massive Facebook engagement that brings more and more people to these pages and their websites and into the echo chamber of hyperpartisan media and beliefs.”
Facebook and Google amplify and strengthen this evil effect. The New York Times summarized:
“The news feed is designed, in Facebook’s public messaging, to ‘show people the stories most relevant to them’ and ranks stories ‘so that what’s most important to each person shows up highest in their news feeds.’ It is a framework built around personal connections and sharing, where value is both expressed and conferred through the concept of engagement. Of course, engagement, in one form or another, is what media businesses have always sought, and provocation has always sold news. But now the incentives are literalized in buttons and written into software.”
Buzzfeed reporters found that their personal news feeds and search results skewed toward the type of stories they were investigating. In other words, as they clicked on disinformation, Facebook and Google fed them more garbage.
So what can you and I do about it? First and foremost, read before you share. Liars publish on the left and on the right. Don’t just share something because it confirms what you believe.
Second, check the publisher – is this a legit news operation? Is it a highly partisan site? Or is it a clickbait site, aimed at getting shares and clicks and totally unconcerned with truth?
Third, if the story or meme seems either unlikely or outrageous, Google the story and see whether any legit news sites have reported it.
For more on all of this, check out these articles:
- Hyperpartisan Facebook Pages Are Publishing False And Misleading Information At An Alarming Rate (Buzzfeed, 10/20/2016)
- Inside Facebook’s (Totally Insane, Unintentionally Gigantic, Hyperpartisan) Political-Media Machine (John Herrman, New York Times, 8/24/2016)
- Snopes’ field guide to fake news sites and hoax purveyors (Kim LaCapria, Snopes.com, 5/16/2016)
- How fake news sites frequently trick big-time journalists (Jack Murtha, Columbia Journalism Review, 5/26/2016)
- Addicted to live news, why do we keep falling for old stories? (Alexios Mantzarlis, Poynter, 7/15/2016)
- You won’t believe what Hillary ordered the DNC to do to Bernie’s brother (Aaron Loeb, Medium, 8/7/2016) and the follow-up:
- My adventures in clickbait (Aaron Loeb, Medium, 8/13/2016)