As I wrote about last year, social media and search companies were blamed for the perpetuation of fake news. Many Americans, some of whom disliked the election result, believe this was a major contributor to Hillary Clinton’s loss. Many of the social media companies deflected blame, and were hesitant to interfere. As Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg put it, he did not want his company to become “Arbiters of truth”.
This is a legitimate concern for companies who market themselves as a platform where anyone can have a voice. Any action they take could be interpreted as an attack on free speech. Regardless of the difficulties, it seems that since the election many of the companies involved have changed their tune. Whether these are ethical decisions, a PR decisions, financial decisions, or a bit of all three, I don’t know. Regardless, I’m happy to see something happening and wanted to take a moment to look at the progress that has been made.
The major social media companies are currently taking steps to mitigate fake, misleading, or clickbait type news stories. Facebook announced yesterday the latest of its efforts to curb misinformation by not allowing offending content in Facebook’s monetization schemes. Most of the social media companies have incorporated features where you can report false stories. Earlier this year, Google reportedly changed its search algorithm a bit to demote fake news stories. They also took steps to eliminate publishers who are producing fake and misleading information from their adsense network.
The actions we have seen so far are encouraging. It will not stop fake news, as the producers of these types of content will evolve to work around the restrictions. Hopefully these actions will work to at least mitigate what is a serious problem. So kudos to the companies who are taking measures to do the right thing. Even if their motives are not necessarily with the user in mind, these actions will benefit the user in the end.