Fake News: What’s the Difference Between Facebook, Google and Gawker?

Fake news and internet rumors hurt both candidates and bogged down the election. “Fake news ran wild on our platform during the entire campaign season,” a Facebook employee is reported to have said. Google’s top news link for ‘final election results’ lead to a fake news site with false numbers.

While Facebook and Google did not create fake news, they chose to make it relevant. If a newspaper or magazine published links to fake and libelous articles and posts, we can be sure there would be a valid claim similar to the case, Facebook board member, Peter Thiel won against Gawker.

But Facebook and Google are immune to defamation lawsuits. Why?

The problem, or blessing, depending on your point of view, is a loophole called Section 230. This is language buried in the Telecommunications Act of 1996 that says Facebook and Google are providers, not publishers. In other words, they are regurgitators of content but they don’t have any creative input.

But do they?

Many legal experts think that Section 230 is being stretched to cover social media platforms in ways it was not intended. Search engines and social media platforms are walking a thin line between providing information and publishing information.

Where is the line?

One way to find out is to look at the different ways publishers and providers think about lists. For example here’s a list of names:

Emily, Emma, Ethan, Isabella, Jacob, Michael

Now, here’s a shorter list in a different order:

Michael, Emma, Emily, Jacob, Isabella

The first list contains names that were most popular in 2007. They came from the Social Security Administration and are in alphabetical order. It came from a government source, required almost no creative input and is an example of the kind of content that comes from providers. The second list is shorter and the names are ordered in a different way that took creativity and insight. If you’re like most people, you want to know why Michael is first and Isabella is last.* And if your name is Ethan, you might wonder why you’re not on the list at all. This is the kind of list that comes from publishers.

The point is, the way lists are ordered and filtered matters.

Based on my personal experience, it matters a lot. Companies like Facebook and Google are in the business of creating systems that filter and prioritize search results, news headlines and other information in a specific way that requires thought and creativity. And to those who say the process is algorithmic and therefore not creative, the thousands of people at Facebook and Google who fiddle with the algorithms are the great counter-argument.

Facebook and Google don’t create fake news and internet rumors, but they put them near the top of news feeds and search results and make the bogus information relevant. For this reason they should be held accountable just like publishers.

* Can you guess? 500 ‘s and I’ll explain what this list is!