Max Read makes his case via New York Magazine for how Facebook was the reason for Donald Trump's surprise victory on November 8th
. Though, to be fair, "Facebook" is called out specifically due to its large online presence, but in reality all the "large and influential boards and social-media platforms where Americans now congregate to discuss politics" are to blame. The main reason why has to do with Facebook's "inability (or refusal) to address the problem of hoax or fake news" that is spread rampantly and effortlessly across the platform: Fake news is not a problem unique to Facebook, but Facebook's enormous audience, and the mechanisms of distribution on which the site relies -- i.e., the emotionally charged activity of sharing, and the show-me-more-like-this feedback loop of the news feed algorithm -- makes it the only site to support a genuinely lucrative market in which shady publishers arbitrage traffic by enticing people off of Facebook and onto ad-festooned websites, using stories that are alternately made up, incorrect, exaggerated beyond all relationship to truth, or all three. Many got hundreds of thousands, if not millions, of shares, likes, and comments; enough people clicked through to the posts to generate significant profits for their creators. The valiant efforts of Snopes and other debunking organizations were insufficient; Facebook's labyrinthine sharing and privacy settings mean that fact-checks get lost in the shuffle. Often, no one would even need to click on and read the story for the headline itself to become a widely distributed talking point, repeated elsewhere online, or, sometimes, in real life.
When roughly 170 million people in North America use Facebook every day and nearly forty-four percent of all adults in the U.S. say they get news from Facebook
, the spread of "fake news" is all the more detrimental. The problem is that Facebook seems "insecure about its power, unsure of its purpose, and unclear about what its responsibilities really are." Earlier this year, Facebook acted on what was right and wrong by censoring the iconic "napalm girl" photograph
, later issuing a statement saying "These are difficult decisions and we don't always get it right." Of course, lies and exaggerations have always been central to real political campaigns; Facebook has simply made them easier to spread, and discovered that it suffers no particular market punishment for doing so -- humans seem to have a strong bias toward news that confirms their beliefs, and environments where those beliefs are unlikely to be challenged.