Facebook employees form fake news task force

SAN FRANCISCO — The controversy over whether fake news on Facebook played a role in Donald Trump's election victory has apparently hit the employee ranks of the social media giant.

A group of Facebook employees has formed an "unofficial task force" to meet in secret and investigate whether the spread of hoax articles on the service influenced the election's outcome, according to a report published in BuzzFeed News.

Sources told BuzzFeed the task force which includes employees from across the company is taking issue with Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg's contention at a technology conference last week that the notion that fake news had an impact was a "pretty crazy idea."

"It's not a crazy idea. What's crazy is for him to come out and dismiss it like that, when he knows, and those of us at the company know, that fake news ran wild on our platform during the entire campaign season," one Facebook employee, who works in the social network’s engineering division, told BuzzFeed.

Another Facebook employee said "hundreds" of Facebook employees had objected to the company's public position on fake news. The task force is probing whether Facebook dedicated sufficient resources to reports of fake news.

Facebook could not be reached for comment.

Google was dragged into the fake-news controversy on Monday, too, when its search engine prominently displayed an obscure right-wing blog, 70news.wordpress.com, that falsely claimed Trump won the popular vote in last week's election.

Hillary Clinton campaign's chief digital strategist on Monday blamed Facebook for the spread of misinformation about the Democratic nominee.

"Everyone has the right to say what they want, have access to sites that they want, share what they want," Teddy Goff told POLITICO. "But a publisher with a record of making stuff up is not likely to rank that highly on Google, and the equivalent ought to be the case on Facebook."

Criticism of Facebook's ascendant power to sway public opinion is growing after the election.

About half of adult Americans rely on Facebook as a source of news, a recent study from the Pew Research Center found.

A BuzzFeed News report found that three large left-wing pages published false or misleading information in nearly 20% of posts, while the three big right-wing Facebook pages published it 38% of the time.

The Facebook employees, who spoke with BuzzFeed News on the condition of anonymity, said they were not taking sides in the election, but advocating that Facebook not favor any candidate through the dissemination of fake or misleading information.

Zuckerberg initially dismissed suggestions that fake stories — such as ones that stated Pope Francis had supported Trump — played  a role in the Republican presidential nominee's victory.

"To think it influenced the election in any way is a pretty crazy idea," Zuckerberg said Thursday at the Techonomy conference in Half Moon Bay, Calif.

On Saturday, Zuckerberg said Facebook is taking steps to eliminate fake news and hoaxes.

While reiterating earlier comments in which he said it was "extremely unlikely" that phony stories posted on Facebook changed the election outcome,

Zuckerberg said work has already begun that would enable users "to flag fake news and hoaxes."

"This is an area where I believe we must proceed very carefully, though," said Zuckerberg, who asserted that "more than 99% of what people see is authentic."

USA TODAY


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