When Facebook said that it was getting rid of news on the platform it in Australia, it didn’t mean all the news. Australian users are still seeing fake news — which now doesn’t have to compete with the real stuff.
In response to Australia’s forthcoming news media bargaining code, Facebook decided to take the nuclear option.
At the time of writing, Australians can’t see domestic or international news, Australian publishers can’t share, and international viewers can’t post, share or see Australian news. Even Facebook’s own factchecking partners can’t post content they’ve created for the company.
Facebook is also blocking Australian users from sharing fact-checking articles, even from partners like @AapFactcheck – which means users now can’t use news articles OR debunks to counter misinfo when they see it
— Peter Bodkin (@peter_bodkin) February 17, 2021
But the misinformation, conspiracy theories and extremism that’s rife on the platform remains.
Pages like Australia’s biggest and longest running anti-vaxxer group (who Gizmodo has chosen not to name to limit the spread of their views), faux news sites that mostly post Infowars content, even Rebel News, the far right website that’s promoted conspiracy theories and who’s only Australian staff member has been banned from Facebook, are all unaffected.
While Facebook and the Australian play chicken with each other, fake news will continue unaffected — boosted, even, by the lack of legitimate news to compete against on the platform.
This is during a pandemic, vaccine rollout and bushfire season in Australia. Not a great time for fake news to travel unchecked.
Not all sources of information that remain are fake news. Government websites, non-for-profits and even Facebook friend connections are still accessible on Facebook and can be useful sources of information.
When its revenue was on the line, Facebook was able to decisively act to get rid of one type of content on their platform.
Of course, telling what is real and fake news is difficult to do with an algorithm. Even its attempt to rid the platform of normal news has removed a bunch of non-news Pages in the process.
But while this decision was messy, it was immediate and largely effective at removing news from the platform.
It makes you wonder: what if Facebook feared showing fake news to its users in Australia as as much as it fears displaying the real stuff right now?