When Facebook initiated new features last year designed to make it easier for its users to keep up with the news and social media marketers a chance to promote content directly to Facebook, Mark Zuckerberg and his crew failed to foresee the oncoming calamity of such an opportunity. Perhaps it was unpredictable that so many news generating outlets would respond so overwhelmingly to the invitation, particularly those who apparently failed the journalism integrity exam in grade school. In addition a number of Facebook managers responsible for monitoring the fairness code were charged with simply failing to recognize the truth from pure fiction. Pressure on Facebook managers to promote certain stories over others was reported and a liberal bias to the selection of news stories, true or not, became a perception.
With the Pew Research Center finding that nearly half of Americans click to social media outlets for their news, the tarnish to the reputation of Facebook, marketers and even reputable news outlets soon began to build like barnacles on the hull of a shiny new boat. Advertisers who are always careful not to associate their brand with distasteful and distrustful public debate began to apply pressure to turn back fake news stories. Facebook turned to algorithms in hopes to stem the charges of personal bias of their human monitors and ultimately declared the right to declare some organizations news offerings as fake.
This month, Facebook began flagging “disputed news stories” that it determines have no basis in fact. “The “disputed” tag is part of Facebook’s grand plan to crack down on fake news as the company tries to tamp down the controversy over its role in the spread of misinformation that sharpened political divisions and inflamed discourse during and after the presidential election.” The process is the first hint of a serious effort to wipe out the practice of made-up news which has become rather pervasive.
History reveals many instances of “yellow journalism” and ranting demagogues during the age of print and broadcast long before the magic of the digital era. Most readers and viewers back then were expected to take responsibility and personally filter printed and broadcast outlets news offerings with a healthy amount of “Don’t believe everything you hear or read” skepticism or “If it sounds too good to be true, it probably is” response.
As claims of censorship and barriers to free speech fly over the new flagging efforts, perhaps the best response to the new yellowing of the truth is to encourage the “clicker” to practice a healthy amount of due diligence in selecting their news and its providers. In the end, truth over time will begin to silence the fakes, or at least cast them aside as irrelevant in the grander scheme of reality.