Facebook Inc (NASDAQ:FB) has begun fighting a war against fake news and, so far at least, it’s losing. Failure could have profound implications for Facebook’s bottom line, and even threaten its ability to remain in business.
The threat is deeper than Donald Trump. The power of Facebook’s software tools, and communication capabilities, is a two-way street that benefits the darker side of human nature, as well as its better angels.
For example, Facebook’s Graph Search tool, introduced in 2013, can help you search the site efficiently. It can also help you stalk someone.
Facebook Live, which lets users stream live video on the site from their camera phones, can let you show grandparents your kid’s birthday party, as it happens. It can also let you show the child being killed.
CEO Mark Zuckerberg promised to do something about this in November, on his own Facebook page, but has not come out with much useful beyond tags on disputed items and a vague statement from an underling that sharing fake news is your prerogative.
FB stock holders need to be worried.
Facebook Is a Media Company, Like It or Not
Facebook has continually denied it is a media company, subject to responsibility for what it posts, fearing the need in that case for human intervention that simply would not scale.
The latest statement from its vice president for partnerships, Dan Rose, is that Facebook is “a new type of platform …where people discovery a lot of media content.” That’s about as mealy-mouthed as anything that could come from a corrupt politician.
For FB, however, fake news is a global problem, and most countries don’t have regulations separating a “telecommunications service” from the responsibilities of a “media outlet.” Thus, Facebook’s efforts at self-censorship are showing up first in international markets.
The European Commission, for instance, has already warned Facebook, and other networks, that they face legal action if the issue of fake news is not dealt with. Alongside Alphabet Inc (NASDAQ:GOOGL), Facebook is testing a system called CrossCheck for flagging fake news in France, which holds a presidential election this spring.
This is being done in cooperation with local media, but the reporting on it shows the difficulty.