President Obama calls out Facebook for spreading fake news

Steven Loeb · November 18, 2016 · Short URL:

Facebook has pledged to crack down on sites peddling false stories

Despite all protests to the contrary, not many people seem willing to really believe Mark Zuckerberg's assertion that, a) there's not a lot of fake news on Facebook and b) that it had no influence on the outcome of the election.

Even the current (for the next two months, at least) President thinks so. 

On Thursday, President Obama, speaking Germany in what will be his last trip abroad as President of the United States, took some time out to call Facebook out for peddling false information, and warned about what may happen if the people lose perspective on what's true and what's not. 

"If we are not serious about facts, and what's true and what's not, and particularly in an age of social media, where so many people are getting their information in soundbites and snippets off their phones. If we can't discriminate between serious arguments and propaganda, then we have problems," the President said. 

In an age where there’s so much active misinformation, and it’s packaged very well, and it looks the same when you see it on a Facebook page or you turn on your television, where some over-zealousness on the part of a U.S. official is equated with constant and severe repression elsewhere. If everything seems to be the same, and no distinctions are made, then we won’t know what to protect. We won’t know what to fight for.” 

The controversy over what gets posted on Facebook started after Donald Trump won the election last week, and numerous articles began stating outright that Facebook was responsible. They accused the company of handing Trump the election thanks to "fake news."

Speaking at Techonomy16, last week, Zuckerberg dismissed these claims.

"I’ve seen some of the stories you are talking about around this election. Personally, I think the idea that fake news on Facebook, of which it’s a very small amount of the content, influenced the election in any way is a pretty crazy idea," Zuckerberg responded, also noting that "voters make decisions based on their lived experience."

However, only a couple of days later, he announced that the company would indeed be cracking down on these sites.

"Our goal is to show people the content they will find most meaningful, and people want accurate news. We have already launched work enabling our community to flag hoaxes and fake news, and there is more we can do here. We have made progress, and we will continue to work on this to improve further," Zuckerberg wrote in a Facebook note. 

Facebook should know full well now easily fake news can spread across the site; the company itself was a victim of a hoax not that long ago.

In the wake of the conservative news scandal earlier this year, where the company was accused of repressing conservative news sites, Facebook removed  the people who were curating its Trending Topics content, replacing it with a machine learning algorithm, which very quickly began spreading a false story about Fox News anchor Megyn Kelly. 

You can see President Obama's full speech below. The part where he starts talking about facts and truth comes at 44:27 minutes in. 

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