Facebook’s Fake News Problem Could Be Far Worse Than It Thought


Since 2016, Facebook has struggled to deal with fake news. Each new revelation about the company, as well as Twitter and Google, has been at the very least an embarrassment, even as the company attempts to deflect the blame, hoping users will just solve the problem themselves. But evidence is mounting that Facebook isn’t doing all that it can. In fact, Facebook’s fake account problem is so huge, fake accounts outnumber all but two nations on Earth.

The New York Times has published a detailed look at what Facebook claims it’s doing to fight its estimated 200 million fake users versus the reality, and the truth is, busting fake accounts would cost Facebook and Google a lot of money:

In fact, fighting too hard against deception may clash with the business models that have allowed the companies to thrive. Facebook, Google and Twitter all offer self-serve advertising systems allowing anyone in the world to buy, target and deliver ads for as much — or as little — money as they wish to spend. More scrutiny could hamper growth.

It works like this. The fake account, which is easy to establish, is slapped together with a few photos stolen off Facebook. It begins pumping out fake news with clickbait headlines. The legion of fake accounts, usually automated, all share the same article, making it more visible. When people click, the ads on the site, usually sourced through Google, make money. The content may be political, but the motive isn’t. They’d happily say Donald Trump is an unusually convincing animatronic puppet controlled by a cabal of Hillary Clinton clones if it made them one more dollar.

The problem here is that everybody, except those of us on Facebook, “wins.” Facebook gets to claim inflated user numbers and collect money from promoted items in your feed. Google makes money off the ads on the site themselves. And the teenager who likely runs the whole thing from an apartment in the Eastern Bloc collects a paycheck. Nobody cares, as long as the money comes in and sites are able to report ever higher growth to Wall Street. There’s no incentive, inside Silicon Valley, to break that cycle. If Facebook wants to rely on users to stop that cycle, they can by simply tuning out Facebook. And unless some action is taken, that might be the only feasible option for the real people sick of Facebook’s fake news problem.

(via The New York Times)