Facebook: the engine of false news


Facebook: the engine of false news

By Jenny Tan

By unanimous consensus of the panel, Facebook is the crucial driver of the fake news phenomenon.

Last Thursday, November 30th, the Board of Change and Seattle-based educational television station KCTS 9 hosted the panel discussion The Role of Media in a World of Fake News at the Vancity Theatre. On the panel were The Tyee founding editor David Beers, Crosscut managing editor Florangela Davila, Globe and Mail associate editor Jim Jennings, and CBC news director Wayne Williams.

The disposition of society has changed, commented CBC’s Williams, allowing perhaps for the quicker rise of fake news compared to previous decades when fake news was present but not prevalent. He noted the CBC Ombudsman, responsible for complaints about CBC programs, has seen a sharp increase in the number of complaints received and a shift in the tone of complainants. Fewer are satisfied with the response of journalists and the complainants are “angrier”, “more polarised”, and some “outright insulting”.

Who are the creators of fake news? Surprisingly, teenagers in Macedonia are a large source, noted The Tyee’s Beers; the group of unlikely content creators generate advertising revenue from fake news article spread with Facebook.

But fake news is not just a foreign product, Beers argued. He noted that a Canadian media outlet is known to create false, sensationalist narratives about the Muslim population in Canada and then send outraged subscribers links to donation pages. Beers did not address the media outlet by name but was likely referring to the controversial Rebel Media. Foreign drivers such as teenagers in Macedonia may be a large driver of fake news, he asserted, but Canada has a media outlet that seeks to shape the narrative of democracy in Canada with false news.

All four panelists agreed the creators of fake news aside, Facebook is the crucial driver of fake news without which the phenomenon would not be as significant.

Facebook doesn’t see itself as a publisher but has enormous power, said Beers. He asserted that journalists shy away from taking Facebook to task because of the platform’s power in driving, and at whim, limiting views of the work of media outlets. With a slight change of its algorithms, Beers pointed out, Facebook can cause the rise or fall of a site.

“We depend on Facebook too much,” said Beers.

More photos by Paul Crowe


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