— TODAY (@TODAYshow) December 8, 2016
In an interview on the “Today” show this morning, Facebook Chief Operating Officer Sheryl Sandberg told Savannah Guthrie, “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.”
The claim that people don’t want hoaxes on Facebook may interest the social-media counters at BuzzFeed, who last month published a study showing that the top 20 fake news stories in the last three months of the presidential election out-engaged the top 20 stories in mainstream outlets such as The Washington Post, NBC News and the like. The tally was 8.7 million shares, likes and comments for the fake stuff, compared with 7.4 million for the real stuff. Fake news experienced a hockey-stick-like ascension as the presidential election came to a close.
This is awfully odd behavior for those who don’t like hoaxes. Surely it’s possible that everyone who traffics in Facebook fake news is utterly unaware of its hoaxiness, though a better bet is that they share what appeals to them. As Politico’s Jack Shafer has argued, the scourge of fake news is, at its core, a demand-side problem. “If readers weren’t so determined to click sexy headlines that lead them to websites of dubious or unknown reputation, and do it again and again, and often sharing the link, fake news would soon be extinct. But its prevalence indicates that the market is only providing the cheap and stupid thrill some readers desire,” he writes.
That reality casts doubt on Sandberg’s pledge to work with “third parties helping to label false news,” as she explained to Guthrie. Would a label by a “third party” be sufficient to persuade those who revel in hoaxes? It sounds like the sort of thing that would be cheered by people in the mainstream media. Consider what Pizzagate shooting suspect Edgar M. Welch told the New York Times about the news system: “He said he did not like the term fake news,” writes New York Times reporter Adam Goldman, “believing it was meant to diminish stories outside the mainstream media, which he does not completely trust.”