Investigating Fake News With Google, YouTube & Facebook

Tech bosses Mark Zuckerberg, Sundar Pichai and Jack Dorsey were being questioned last week by politicians in the US Congress over the proliferation of disinformation on YouTube, Twitter and Facebook in the first such since the storming of the Washington Capitol building, which many believe will prove a tipping point for greater regulation of Social Media..

Specifically, the hearings are related to the Congress'  consideration of scrapping Section 230, the legislation that was crafted in the early days of the internet so that website owners could moderate sites without worrying about legal liability, by effectively saying that they are not publishers.

Because social media is a public platform, anyone, including news outlets, can post anything without being accountable for fact-checking and it left to users to distinguish misinformation from disinformation and plain lies in their feeds.  Academics and practitioners alike have asked why people share such misinformation, and sought solutions to reduce the sharing of misinformation

The sharing of misinformation on social media, including, but not limited to, blatantly false political ‘fake news’ and misleading and partisan content, has become a major topical focus of public debate and academic study.

Although misinformation is nothing new, the topic gained prominence in 2016 after the US Presidential Election and the UK’s Brexit referendum, during which entirely fabricated stories, which were presented as legitimate news, received wide distribution via social media. 

This is a problem that has gained even more attention during the COVID-19 pandemic. and the Capitol Hill riot following the 2020 US Presidential Election.  

  • First in the line of fire was Facebook boss, Mark Zuckerberg who favours limited reforms, going further than his two peers. "We believe Congress should consider making platforms' intermediary liability protection for certain types of unlawful content conditional on companies' ability to meet best practice to combat the spread of this content," he wrote. 
  • Twitter's Mr Dorsey said efforts to combat misinformation must be linked to "earning trust" from users by focusing on "enhancing transparency, ensuring procedural fairness, enabling algorithmic choice, and strengthening privacy".
  • Mr Pichai  referred to Section 230, saying repealing it "would have unintended consequences - harming both free expression and the ability of platforms to take responsible action to protect users in the face of constantly evolving challenges".

The truth and accuracy of news headlines has little effect on social media users' sharing intentions and sharing itself does not necessarily indicate belief. Most participants say it is important to share only accurate news, however to investigate this apparent contradiction, various surveys have been done and a field experiment carried out on Twitter. The results show that subtly shifting attention to accuracy increases the quality of news that people subsequently share.

Together with additional computational analyses, these findings indicate that people often share misinformation because their attention is focused on factors other than accuracy, and therefore they fail to implement a strongly held preference for accurate sharing.

Misinformation is problematic because it leads to inaccurate beliefs and can exacerbate partisan disagreement over even basic facts. Merely reading false news posts, including political posts that are extremely implausible and inconsistent with one’s political ideology, makes them subsequently seem more true

In addition to being concerning, the widespread sharing of misinformation on social media is surprising, given the outlandishness of much of this content.

What differentiates misinformation from disinformation is the intent of the person or outlet sharing it. In a study by researchers for from Indiana University, misinformation is classified as “false or misleading content including hoaxes, conspiracy theories, fabricated reports, click-bait headlines, and even satire.” Misinformation is not deliberately intended to deceive. Instead, it aims to shape or change public opinion on a given topic.

Indiana University:     Nature:      BBC:       NiemanLab:      MailChimp:      Image: Unsplash

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