Mark Zuckerberg refuses to admit that fake news on Facebook influenced the election

Although the election of Trump has numerous ugly causes, it’s reasonable to argue that it was fueled by the spread of inaccurate so-called news on social media, particularly Facebook. But in yet another of the spectacular responsibility dodges for which his company has become infamous, Mark Zuckerberg denies that fake Facebook news affected the election.

During a live interview at the Techonomy conference, which focuses on the intersection of technology with business and society, Zuckerberg said that the proliferation of fake news stories on Facebook “surely had no impact” on the presidential election outcome. For those attendees who were in doubt as to how much he’d missed the point, he clarified, “I think there is a certain profound lack of empathy in asserting that the only reason someone could have voted the way they did is because they saw fake news.” He doubled down in a post on his Facebook page, claiming that “Of all the content on Facebook, more than 99% of what people see is authentic.”

Is that really the case? When it comes to journalism, Facebook is a total cesspool. Log in on any given day and you’ll see hoaxes, wild exaggerations, and good old-fashioned lies being shared as “news.” Between August and September 2016, The Washington Post uncovered five news stories that were straight-up fake and three more that were hugely inaccurate among Facebook’s trending news topics. That doesn’t even count the “OBAMA’S SECRET MUSLIM PAST REVEALED!!!!” stories from sites with names like that your racist uncle insists on reposting.

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CREDIT: Bill Hinton/Getty Images

Pro tip: If the screen is black, the font is red, and there are animated flames in the header, it’s not a real news website.

In August 2016, Facebook fired its trending editors and decided to rely on algorithms to figure out what qualified as news, presumably because algorithms don’t push back against toxic or hostile work environments. A few days later, a false news story about Megyn Kelly supporting Hillary Clinton was at the top of the trending list. Algorithms, unlike humans, apparently can’t tell the difference between partisan sources and accurate ones.

If Facebook insists on using native algorithms to promote and suppress news items, it should adhere to the same ethical codes as other outlets that share media content. Considering that 79 percent of adults with the internet are on Facebook44 percent of Facebook users primarily get their news through the platform, and 20 percent of social media users have changed their stance on a political or social issue because of content they viewed on social media, the accuracy and reliability of media content can make a huge difference. Fake news does change minds and certainly fuels misinformed opinions.

By turning a blind eye to the detrimental effect of their algorithms, Zuckerberg and Facebook are complicit in spreading lies and the way this election turned out. Sure, they might not have caused the rise of a neo-fascist movement, but they’ve passively contributed to it through inaction. And until Zuckerberg realizes that with curation comes responsibility, Facebook’s complicity and the misinformation of the public will continue.