Last week before the election a story appeared on Facebook—an article from the Denver Guardian reporting that an FBI agent working on the Clinton emails murdered his wife and shot himself. Two problems here: the event never occurred, and there is no newspaper called the Denver Guardian—not in Denver, not anywhere.
In Mansfield, Georgia, Republican mayor Jefferson Riley posted the following on his Facebook page: “Remember the voting days: Republicans vote on Tuesday, 11/8 and Democrats vote on Wednesday, 11/9.” He later deleted the post. An office worker said she thought it might have been a joke, but she wasn’t convinced. Only one problem here: Mayor Riley is still the mayor.
Throughout the recent campaign a continuing stream of similar false stories—fake news, almost all pro-Trump—streamed unabated from websites in Macedonia(!); and for the countless Americans who get their news only from Facebook and Twitter, the stories had the efficacy of the evening news—years ago—when we believed the evening news.
(Bonus points for you if you can tell me on what continent Macedonia lies. Even more if you can tell me any country that borders it.)*
Under fire for influencing the election, Facebook’s Mark Zuckerberg has defended his company, claiming that 99% of the news was accurate; but he also claimed that Facebook is not a media outlet. First off, 99% is pretty good if you’re taking a math exam, but not so good if you’re talking about thousands of counterfeit posts. “Pope endorses Donald Trump” was one such item, immediately shared by hundreds and eventually read by millions. A later retraction went virtually unnoticed. And second, to claim that Facebook (or Twitter) is not a media outlet is to deny the results of the last election, won by Trump who benefited from an endless skein of false statements and spurious accusations which the gullibles (they’re like deplorables, only not Klan members) accepted as truth.
A friend of mine shut down his Facebook account today. I don’t know if his disgust with Facebook’s influence on the election had anything to do with it, but I wouldn’t blame him if that was the reason. As for the rest of us, it’s our decision to make: I’m curious to see what steps Facebook takes to clean up its act, especially since my blog is automatically posted there. Allowing that is a choice I made. Deciding not to is a choice also.
*It’s in Europe, bordered by Kosovo, Serbia, Bulgaria, Greece, and Albania. Now you know where your Facebook “news” comes from.