News Analysis by Brigid Fegeley and Coleman Spilde
Fake news stories about the 2020 election on Facebook are being produced and viewed at an unprecedented rate according to an article in the Columbia Journalism Review. The article, “Disinformation Still Running Rampant on Facebook” by Mathew Ingram highlights a new study by Avaaz, a non-profit that says it “protects democracies from the dangers of disinformation on social media.” The Avaaz report concluded there were 86 million views of disinformation on Facebook in the last three months, more than three times as many as the preceding three months. And that may be underestimating the problem.
The study also found that political disinformation surpassed 158 million views since the beginning of the year, which Avaaz says is “enough to reach every reported registered voter in the US at least once.” Of those viral fake news stories, more than 90 percent were negative, and two-thirds of them were about Democrats or liberals. On the other hand, all of the positive fake stories, which accounted for less than 10 percent of the false content, were about Republicans.
Facebook contends that other studies have found that it’s reduced the amount of fake news on its platform by more than half since the 2016 election and says it has invested resources to identify disinformation such as pop-up notifications that appear before a link can be shared, alerting the user of potentially false info. But the pop-up message that comes up when an untrustworthy story is about to be shared doesn’t appear to be working since it can easily be ignored by the person sharing the article in question. And though Facebook claims those who share false media on a regular basis have their posts buried in newsfeeds, the website’s algorithm has not led to a decline of disinformation on the site.
The Takeaway: Misinformation about the 2020 elections is already rampant on Facebook and warning labels are not deterring people from viewing, sharing and believing fake news. To fight this epidemic, consumers need to be their own fact-checkers and resist the urge to share news stories that seem too outrageous to be true. But consumers are only part of the solution. Massively popular social media sites like Facebook must realize their platforms have been weaponized in the spread of disinformation, and they need to implement better tools to filter out and ultimately remove false information.