By Briana Vannozzi
“If I had to throw a percentage out, maybe 60 percent,” said social network user Rosemary Kubadidi.
That’s how often Kubadidi turns to her personal news feed rather than traditional media for information gathering. During the recent presidential election cycle, she suspects that number was even higher.
In the days since, two of the world’s largest internet companies — Facebook and Google — faced backlash for influencing the election outcome by allowing the spread of fake and false news on their sites.
Take this top Google search over the weekend for “final election vote count.” It linked viewers to a page called “70 news.” It falsely claims Donald Trump won both the popular and electoral votes.
Now both companies are announcing new policies, banning their advertising networks from fake news pages.
“The fact that these websites, these organizations are recognizing the fact that they have an influence on society with the information they provide. And they know it’s due to an algorithm and people using those algorithms maybe for a certain agenda,” said Klive Oh, an assistant professor of communication at William Paterson University.
Google’s policy change will stop fake new sites from using its Adsense advertising network, but won’t prevent them from populating in a search. Facebook Chief Executive Mark Zuckerberg took to his own page to fend off critics.
He said, “Of all the content on Facebook, more than 99 percent of what people see is authentic. Only a very small amount is fake news and hoaxes. The hoaxes that do exist are not limited to one partisan view, or even to politics. Overall, this makes it extremely unlikely hoaxes changed the outcome of this election in one direction or the other. That said, we don’t want any hoaxes on Facebook.”
Facebook is also updating ad policies. It’s an effort to choke fake news sites by cutting off ad revenue, but no outright prevention of sharing.
“It is a good thing, but whether or not it’s going to cut down on the misinformation is something else,” said Heather Wicks, another social network user.
“Although they’re not journalistic organizations now they’re thinking about fairness and credibility and objectivity,” said Oh. “Which is a very difficult task and is going to be challenging because there’s always going to be people who want to put fake information on there no matter what.”
A fake story about actor Denzel Washington supporting Donald Trump trended on Facebook with more than 10,000 shares and 42,000 reactions. Sites like Real News Right Now claim Trump will choose his cabinet members a la “The Apprentice” — reality show style. Others use names like New Century Times to add an allure of authenticity.
Did Hakkiem Erivn, a social network user, see any of that circulating?
“You get a lot through social media with that but you have to learn how to decipher what’s true. It’s basically your own judgement, I believe,” he said.
“There’s a lot of misinformation out there and that’s why I think it’s incumbent upon people to do their own research,” Wicks said.
We conducted our own informal poll via Twitter asking followers about their use of social networks for news.
Sixty-four percent of respondents say they relied on social networks more than 50 percent of the time for news gathering during the election. Just 36 percent used it less than 50 percent of the time.
Those numbers especially important, as global companies recognize journalists are no longer the sole gatekeepers for news.