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Misinformation Whack-A-Mole: How

Social Media is Destined to Fail

by Alp Ünal AYHAN

With election season in the US approach, misinformation and fake news on social media, especially on Facebook, is on the rise. Piling on the rampant misinformation regarding the COVID-19 pandemic, it’s becoming more and more difficult to keep track of all the false information that’s circling in our feeds. Facebook said it removed 7 million posts and labeled 98 million others with coronavirus misinformation on its main site and Instagram between April and June (1). This is merely a fraction of the amount of false information on these sites.

 

Misinformation on Facebook is certainly not something new. The 2016 elections in the US were the topic of so much debate about fake news, misinformation, conspiracy theories, and social media’s role in spreading them. False posts about Democratic nominee Hillary Clinton’s health condition on the campaign trail and the Pizzagate conspiracy theory about alleged human trafficking and child abuse ring involving Clinton ended up hurting her candidacy. In response to this, Facebook launched its third-party fact-checking platform where news and fact-checking organizations could support Facebook in identifying and removing misinformation.

 

It was a failure. The Daily Caller, a website with white supremacist ties, was also named a fact-checking organization helping Facebook alongside reputable news organizations such as JTBC News of South Korea. In an October 2019 congressional hearing, Mark Zuckerberg, CEO of Facebook, failed to confirm Facebook would take down political advertisements with falsehoods in them.

 

Facebook’s lack of will to get rid of misinformation has led to a reaction from its biggest clientele: advertisers. Knowing Facebook, like any other social media site, is essentially an advertisement company nearly a hundred advertisers including big names like Starbucks, Coca-Cola, and HP began a boycott of Facebook’s advertisements this summer. The boycott aims to combat both misinformation and hate speech on the platform and is joined by many small businesses that have a big share in Facebook’s 8 million advertisers (2).

 

Perhaps to remind Facebook the role it plays in democracies this boycott needs to be accompanied by a boycott from its product: users. Back in 2018, Arjen Lubach, a Dutch comedian, initiated a boycott of Facebook on an episode of his TV show Zondag met Lubach over Facebook’s handling of personal information after the Cambridge Analytica scandal. Time will tell whether these boycotts will turn into mass movements but the need for it surely seems to be growing.

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