Fake news – the talk of the last couple of months. Following the American presidential election, Facebook along with Google have vowed to put a stop to fake news that continues to plague our beloved social media networks. While that sounds great in theory, realistically the change might have occurred in a period that spanned from anywhere between several months or even a couple years.
Germany, which doesn’t have the luxury of time with their own election coming up, has decided to crack down on Facebook – and not in a nice way. Germany’s coalition government has threatened to fine Facebook up to $500,000 for allowing the publishing of each fake news on the media platform. Behind the aggressive stance Germany is taking lies the fear that fake news could also influence the results of their own election, something that they feel is preventable; that is, with the help of Facebook. It makes sense to hold Facebook accountable for their impacts on large-scale events such as the election, and it’s also fair to hit their wallets if there is lack of action towards this increasingly large issue world-wide, but is this going too far?
There is however, a stark contrast between swift action, and reckless handling. In a shortened span of time, Facebook now has the pressure to devise a plan that halts fake news in its tracks, but also make sure it does it in the right way. If Facebook goes overboard, it could impact legitimate businesses. On the other hand, refraining from hard judgement may mean that nothing will change. The question then becomes less about what Facebook is doing to stop fake news, and more about how they intend to bring about this change. For example, Facebook has attempted to fix the issue by handing power over to third party fact checkers who will soon have the ability to flag down websites it deems as fake news. This means that the five companies whom have been given these powers including Snopes, ABC News, Associated Press, PolitiFact, and Factcheck.org can publicly brand websites as “disputed” and force them down users’ news feeds. Whenever power is involved, someone is not happy, and some have good reason for their outrage.
Many believe that fact checkers themselves hold some sort of bias towards ideas or issues, such as political perspectives, leading to a surge of distrust and anger among users around the world. Why is it, they ask, that an organization is able to dictate what is right and what is wrong? How is that fair to the others, who may be entitled to their own opinion, but were not given the same privileges to flag down stories? The entire satire industry could take a hit as a result of this approach and many are worried the steps taken by Facebook are not the right ones.
Fake news is everywhere, and after a long and tumultuous American election in the past year that saw enormous amounts of fake news, it’s safe to say this is a problem that needs to stop, and fast. Whether or not Germany has made the correct move themselves, it is definitely heading in the right direction. They are mounting pressure on the social media platform, forcing them to become active institutions rather than companies hell-bent on making the most amount of money possible, while ignoring the issues at hand. Either way, we will see the results due from August to September of 2017. Thoughts?