“MARK ZUCKERBERG, dead at 32, denies Facebook has problem with fake news.” The satirical headline, which made the rounds online this week, nicely encapsulates the most recent woes of the world’s largest social network: its algorithms, critics say, filled users’ newsfeeds with misinformation—and in the process influenced the American election result. But this is not the only problem the firm is grappling with. A volatile share price, privacy policies and advertising metrics have also kept Mr Zuckerberg (pictured) busy.
“News” that the Pope had endorsed Donald Trump or that a pizzeria in Washington, DC, is the home base of a child-abuse ring led by Hillary Clinton, were not confined to Facebook (nor were fake stories only a right-wing phenomenon). They often originate elsewhere, for instance on fake-news websites in Macedonia, which make good money via online ads, and on Twitter. But Facebook’s algorithms give prominence to such misinformation. They are tuned to maximise “engagement”, meaning they present users with the type of content that has already piqued their interest, as outrageous headlines tend to do.
Yet despite…Continue reading