Facebook fake news row: Mark Zuckerberg is a politician now


While Donald Trump’s visit to the White House was an apparently sobering experience about the level of responsibility he’d soon inherit, Zuckerberg has had a brutal political awakening of his own.

Facebook’s “fake news” crisis has had the normally stoic 32-year-old visibly irritated, and that’s because for the first time he is being treated like a politician, rather than just a tech CEO.

With that comes distrust and anger, not to mention disloyalty in the Facebook ranks and what for him must be the growing realisation that it’s impossible to please everyone.

Whether Zuckerberg was right to say fake news had little impact is largely irrelevant. By dismissing it apparently without second thought as “crazy”, he attracted a global pitchfork of people demanding that he at the very least acknowledge the potential role his empire had in Donald Trump’s election win.

On 9 November 2016, Zuckerberg said fake news wasn’t a problem.  By 19 November, he wanted to assure us that “we’ve been working on this problem for a long time and we take this responsibility seriously“.  One basic problem is that Facebook makes money from “engagement” and, as Buzzfeed notes, fake news drives that more effectively than real news.  Never attribute to incompetence that which can be explained by differing incentive structures.

Related, Benedict Evans highlights how broken the Facebook news recommendation algorithm is in a couple of tweets.