This Wednesday, Facebook held a press conference with journalists to discuss its renewed efforts to combat misinformation on the platform. According to BuzzFeed News, the company began by screening a 12-minute documentary on fake news by the Oscar-winning documentarian Morgan Neville before turning to the reporters.
Yet what was supposed to be a PR dunk for Facebook, whose public standing has taken some hits recently, quickly took a turn for the worse. CNN reporter Oliver Darcy asked Facebook’s Head of News Feed John Hegeman why, if the company was serious about combating fake news, it still allowed Alex Jones’ Infowars to share its content. No one really had a good answer for him.
Hegeman responded, according to BuzzFeed, that the company will not just “take down false news.” Wait, isn’t that what this press conference promised? It seems not. Turns out Facebook’s push is to remove only the most obvious and egregious examples of misinformation, and leave pages like Jones’—which has about 900,000 likes—to keep on spreading highly questionable content.
Hegeman went so far as to suggest that Infowars — which in recent weeks has pushed the baseless conspiracy theory that Democrats were planning to start a civil war this July 4 — hadn’t violated Facebook’s rules. “I guess just for being false that doesn’t violate the community standards.” he said. “I think part of the fundamental thing here is that we created Facebook to be a place where different people can have a voice. And different publishers have very different points of view.” [...]
In a follow-up statement to CNN, a Facebook spokesperson clarified that it still might choose to downrank Infowars content. “We allow people to post it as a form of expression, but we’re not going to show it at the top of News Feed,” the spokesperson said. But this sort of shadow censorship likely does little for those who seek out Infowars content or those who share it. And it does little to stop the nearly 1 million users who subscribe to the page from accessing the content.
News Feed product specialist Sara Su also responded to the questions, saying that Jones’ content “bugs me” and “can be really problematic”. Still, there was no explanation of why the company is still willing to host posts with content ranging from discrediting mass shooting victims to racist hate speech while claiming to fight misinformation.
As BuzzFeed points out, this all makes sense for Facebook from a business perspective. If it bans pages like Infowars, a large part of its market will feel excluded. It’s already dealt with years of criticism over “liberal bias” on the site and it’s terrified to take a stance on content that could cast it again in that light. As long as that’s the case, efforts like this press conference are little more than a distraction, while Jones and others continue growing their fan bases and Mark Zuckerberg keeps raking in the cash.