Facebook’s Fight Against Fake News
The company is taking on the internet’s ‘bad guys’ — but who will come out on top?
By Gillian Tett
A couple of years ago, Greg Marra, product management director at Facebook, spent most of his time figuring out how to make the site’s News Feed more enticing. No longer. These days, Marra is engaged in a cyber version of cat-and-mouse, frantically tracking the “bad guys” disseminating fake news — then trying to shut down their accounts. “This work is adversarial — people are trying to penetrate our defences,” Marra told an audience at the Aspen Ideas Festival last week. Using language that might have emanated from the Wild West, he continued: “It sucks that we have to fight the bad guys… and the bad guys are creative. But we believe deeply in what we do…and in the fight.”
Should we feel reassured? After all, it’s become clear that fake news has circulated on a variety of social media platforms. These range from the infamous “Pope Francis Shocks World, Endorses Donald Trump for President” headline, which originated on the now defunct fake news site WTOE 5 News and was shared almost a million times on Facebook, to mob violence and the killing of a woman last week in India after false rumours of child abduction were spread via WhatsApp.
This week the US Senate Intelligence Committee supported three US intelligence agencies’ conclusion that Russia meddled in the 2016 US presidential election. And revelations earlier this year that data-analytics group Cambridge Analytica harvested millions of Facebook profiles to target specific voters with fake news have left the social media company under investigation from no fewer than four US regulatory agencies — a situation that has not been helped by Facebook’s tardy response to tackling the problem.
Finally, though, Facebook is starting to fight back. No, company executives are not (yet) admitting liability for what appears on their platform; nor are they volunteering to subject themselves to stricter regulation. But they are trying to be a little more transparent. Hence Marra (and his Facebook colleagues) turning up in Aspen to speak about their fight against “the bad guys”.