People might have heard claims of Facebook censoring Zero Hedge. In short, what happened was that Facebook users noticed that they became unable to post links to the right-leaning financial blog on the social media website. Eventually, Zero Hedge became aware of this issue, with the result that it started claiming that it was being censored by Facebook. This led to other right-leaning figures pouring criticism on Facebook for its censorship, which in turn, brought in more right-leaning figures. After a ban of three days, Facebook issued a statement to Breitbart News that the ban was the product of an error in their spam detection, which is why it has since reversed the ban.
Why Did It Happen?
No one outside of Facebook can be sure about the exact cause for what happened. However, that hasn't stopped interested individuals from offering up a wide range of speculation on the matter.
For example, there are some people who believe that Zero Hedge was caught up in Facebook's efforts to combat fake news. After all, the financial blog tends to be best-known for its fringe views. For example, it is a proponent of Austrian economics, which is scorned by mainstream economists because of its rejection of the mathematics used to give the field a quantitative foundation. Furthermore, Zero Hedge is infamous for its anti-establishment views, which are by no means limited to finance but extend to cover other topics in other fields as well. As such, it isn't wholly unreasonable to think that Facebook made a choice to ban Zero Hedge before backing off when the ban prompted a negative response of sufficient strength from right-leaning figures.
However, it is possible that Facebook is being truthful when it claims that the ban was caused by a mistake on its part. In short, it uses automated systems to handle its spam detection, which could have blocked Zero Hedge by mistake rather than by intent. Certainly, Facebook has human staff members to oversee its automated systems, but most stories suggest that its human staff members are over-burdened by the responsibilities that have been entrusted to them, thus making it very believable that something like this could happen without someone being able to prevent it in time.
For that matter, it should be remembered that this isn't even the biggest blunder of this kind that Facebook has made in recent times. After all, Elizabeth Warren posted Facebook ads calling for the breakup of Facebook and other tech titans because she is one of the growing number of people who think that such companies have been abusing the immense power that they wield over American society and beyond. As a result, it should come as no surprise to learn that Facebook came under fire from a wide range of sources when it actually removed one of those ads, thus seeming as though the tech titan had proved Warren's point.
Supposedly, the ad was taken down because it had violated one of Facebook's rules about making changes to its corporate logo. For most people, chances are good that their initial response to this claim is one of skepticism. However, it is more believable than it sounds because Warrens's other ads on the same topic were not removed by Facebook, which supports the idea that the whole incident happened because of very, very poor timing rather than a terrible, terrible PR sense.
How Is Facebook Doing with Combating Fake News Anyways?
On the whole, these incidents are interesting reminders that Facebook has been treating the issue of fake news with more seriousness in recent times, which is perhaps unsurprising considering the impact on its reputation from recent events. Unfortunately, it is far from certain that Facebook's efforts will be enough. After all, it has no more than a limited number of people with which to oversee a huge volume of content being produced a wide range of countries on a constant basis. Even worse, while machine learning can help Facebook with spam detection and related issues, fact checking is still far beyond such capabilities, meaning that machines aren't much help in this regard at this point in time. However, the fundamental issues are much simpler. First, it is much, much easier to spread misinformation than to correct it. Second, once misinformation has been spread, there is no guarantee that the victims will see the counters to what has been said. As such, one can't help but be concerned about how the phenomenon of fake news will continue to shape our societies for the foreseeable future.
Written by Garrett Parker
Read more posts by Garrett Parker