Why Mark Zuckerberg’s Personal Challenge for 2018 Is Different

Fake news and its impact on the election weighed heavily on the Facebook CEO’s mind

Mark Zuckerberg at the Facebook Communities Summit in June
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“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 that hoaxes changed the outcome of this election in one direction or the other.”

Those were the defiant words of Facebook co-founder and CEO Mark Zuckerberg in a Facebook post on Nov. 12, 2016, in response to numerous reports that fake news spread via the social network altered the outcome of the 2016 U.S. presidential election.

However, Zuckerberg’s tone has changed quite a bit in the 14 or so months since his emphatic denial, to the point where “fixing these important issues” is the centerpiece of his annual personal challenge for 2018.

As more evidence emerged on the impact that fake news spread via Facebook and other social networks may have had on the election, in a post exactly one week after the one quoted above, Zuckerberg began to acknowledge the issue, writing, “The bottom line is: We take misinformation seriously. Our goal is to connect people with the stories they find most meaningful, and we know people want accurate information. We’ve been working on this problem for a long time and we take this responsibility seriously. We’ve made significant progress, but there is more work to be done … The problems here are complex, both technically and philosophically. We believe in giving people a voice, which means erring on the side of letting people share what they want whenever possible. We need to be careful not to discourage sharing of opinions or to mistakenly restrict accurate content. We do not want to be arbiters of truth ourselves, but instead rely on our community and trusted third parties.”

Facebook turned 13 on Feb. 4, 2017, and Zuckerberg dug deeper into the topic of fake news in a lengthy note later that month, writing in part, “The two most discussed concerns this past year were about diversity of viewpoints we see (filter bubbles) and accuracy of information (fake news). I worry about these and we have studied them extensively, but I also worry that there are even more powerful effects we must mitigate around sensationalism and polarization leading to a loss of common understanding … Accuracy of information is very important. We know there is misinformation and even outright hoax content on Facebook, and we take this very seriously. We’ve made progress fighting hoaxes the way we fight spam, but we have more work to do. We are proceeding carefully because there is not always a clear line between hoaxes, satire and opinion. In a free society, it’s important that people have the power to share their opinion, even if others think they’re wrong. Our approach will focus less on banning misinformation and more on surfacing additional perspectives and information, including that fact checkers dispute an item’s accuracy.”

At the inaugural Facebook Communities Summit in Chicago this past June, the theme was, “Bring the world closer together,” and Zuckerberg expanded on that theme and Facebook’s role in making it happen in another long post: “For the past decade, we’ve focused on making the world more open and connected. We’re not done yet, and we will continue working to give people a voice and help people connect. But even as we make progress, our society is still divided. So now I believe we have a responsibility to do even more. It’s not enough to simply connect the world; we must also work to bring the world closer together. We need to give people a voice to get a diversity of opinions out there, but we also need to build enough common ground so we can all make progress together. We need to stay connected with people we already know and care about, but we also need to meet new people with new perspectives. We need support from family and friends, but we also need to build communities to support us, as well.”

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