Facebook is doing a big public relations push today to promote its “Year in Review” lists of the top topics and videos on the platform, and Chief Operating Officer Sheryl Sandberg appeared on the Today Show in the US as part of the festivities. During her interview, Sandberg dodged questions on fake news and failed to provide any meaningful information about its spread on the platform in the lead up to the US election. Though she was happy to announce that the US election was indeed the most discussed topic globally on Facebook this year.
Sandberg started with a non-answer to Savannah Guthrie’s question on whether Facebook and Mark Zuckerberg had come to realise that fake news was a bigger problem than they originally thought:
Well we’ve been working on this for a long time and we’ve taken important steps, but there’s a lot more to do. We know that people don’t want to see hoaxes on Facebook and we don’t want to see hoaxes on Facebook. And so we’re working on it because misinformation is something we take seriously and something we’re going to continue to iterate on, on the service.
Well that’s a rehearsed line if ever we’ve seen one.
Guthrie tried again, asking if fake news played a bigger role [in the US election], in retrospect, than Facebook thought.
Sandberg replied that there had been claims that hoaxes on Facebook had swayed the US election, and “we don’t think it swayed the election but we take that responsibility really seriously”.
Here’s the thing. Facebook is a company that’s built on data. It has the data that will show how much fake or “hoax” news was shared and read on Facebook, or how much of the discussion around the election was about hoax stories, but refuses to release it. We’re expected to just accept that they “don’t think it swayed the election”.
Since election day, the only thing we’ve been offered is a vague and confusing statistic from someone who’s mastered the art of doublespeak, Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg. At the peak of the fake news backlash, Zuck said “more than 99% of what people see [on Facebook] is authentic. Only a very small amount is fake news and hoaxes.” Zuckerberg didn’t provide the data to back that up and then clouded the issue when he clarified in a reply to a comment: “The stat I mentioned is across the whole system. Depending on which pages you personally follow and who your friends are, you may see more or less. The power of Facebook is that you control what you see by who you choose to connect with.”
Apart from the most discussed topics, Facebook did have some other data it actually wanted to share with users today: The number one live video of the year was “Chewbacca Mum“.