Industry Perspectives

Does Facebook Understand its Fake News Problem?

After nearly two years of sustained accusations that the platform enables the spread of misinformation, Facebook has once again come under fire. This time, the trigger was news that a political consulting firm called Cambridge Analytica stole private data from close to 90 million Facebook users and used it to try and swing voter behavior.

Blog Post
The AppNexus Team
Reading Time: ~5min

The fallout over this latest incident has prompted Mark Zuckerberg to speak more with the media about how Facebook plans to better serve the public moving forward, including this interview with Vox’s Ezra Klein. 

One piece we pulled out of this interview was Zuckerberg’s classification of the “fake news” that’s so abundant on Facebook’s news feed. You can read the interview for yourself, but to paraphrase, Zuckerberg said that fake news falls into one of three categories:

  1. Low-quality content designed to get cheap clicks and make money on the resulting ad revenue
  2. Propaganda released by state actors, intended to influence users’ political beliefs
  3. Real media outlets reporting inaccurate or partisan news in order to push a worldview they genuinely believe to be true

 

The second category is probably the scariest. But our issue lies with his distinction between numbers one and three. 

As an ad tech provider managing billions of programmatic transactions per day on our platform, AppNexus is in a unique position to examine the fake news epidemic. We’ve found that it’s often nearly impossible to determine whether a web site’s goal is to make money on ads or spread a political message. After all, how can you really tell whether someone’s motivated by money or ideology? What if they’re motivated by both? Or what if they’re just in it for the money, but agree with the message and view spreading it as a nice bonus?

To be clear, the distinction does matter, because knowing why bad actors post fake news is key to stopping it. But what matters more is recognizing that platforms like Facebook are uniquely vulnerable to becoming amplifiers of fake news. After all, people will always write about their political views, no matter how extreme they are. But by rewarding clicks and shares above all else, Facebook enables fake news to spread quickly and enter mainstream discourse. And all the while, the bad actors running the sites get to make money from ads.

At AppNexus, we’re fighting these problems head on. If you’d like to see our findings on fake news for yourself, learn how we’re working to address them, and get some tips on how to protect your own brand safety, check out our white paper on inventory quality.