820 Update on Facebook

Zuckerberg realises the dangers

of the social-media revolution he helped start ...

(SMH, from the New York Times Magazine)

… and it’s about time. I have been outspoken about the fact (yes, I think it’s a fact) that the fake news on Facebook (blogs 811, 771) won the US election for Trump: There were millions of people in America - a country were more than 50% of the population fervently believing in God are Christians of some persuasion or another - who were exposed to the “news” that the Pope had endorsed Trump for president. What do you think they would have done at the ballot box? And, yes, the news was fake, he hadn’t. QED. Read the article, dammit, here are excerpts ...

“Over the course of 2016, Facebook's gargantuan influence became its biggest liability. During the US election, propagandists - some working for money, others for potentially state-sponsored lulz [mischief] - used the service to turn fake stories into viral sensations, such as the one about Pope Francis endorsing Trump (he hadn't). 

"With its huge reach, Facebook has begun to act as the great disseminator of misinformation and half-truths swirling about the rest of media. It sucks up lies from cable news and Twitter, then precisely targets each lie to the partisan bubble most receptive to it.

"After studying how people shared 1.25 million stories during the campaign, a team of researchers at Massachusetts Institute of Technology and Harvard implicated Facebook and Twitter in the larger failure of media in 2016, finding that social media created a right-wing echo chamber: a "media network anchored around Breitbart developed as a distinct and insulated media system, using social media as a backbone to transmit a hyperpartisan perspective to the world". 

"After the election, former president Barack Obama bemoaned "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."

“Since election day Silicon Valley has been consumed with a feeling of complicity. Trump had benefited from a media environment that is now shaped by Facebook - and, more to the point, shaped by a single Facebook feature, the same one to which the company owes its remarkable ascent to social-media hegemony: the computationally determined list of updates you see every time you open the app. The list has a formal name, News Feed. But most users are apt to think of it as Facebook itself.

“If it's an exaggeration to say that News Feed has become the most influential source of information in the history of civilisation, it is only slightly so …”