Mark Zuckerberg rejects 'crazy idea' Facebook influenced US election result
Mark Zuckerberg has rejected widespread claims that Facebook influenced the US election by allowing fake and incendiary news stories to thrive on the social network.
“The idea that fake news on Facebook, of which it’s a very small amount of the content, influenced the election is a pretty crazy idea,” Zuckerberg said at the Techonomy conference in California on Thursday night.
The social network has been hit by claims during and after the election that its News Feed algorithm and Trending Topics section showed users many hoax news stories or hyper-partisan articles, helping spread misinformation about Donald Trump and Hillary Clinton.
Responding to the allegations for the first time, Zuckerberg suggested they were a result of critics failing to understand why Americans voted for Trump, and seeking something to blame.
“Voters make decisions based on their lived experience,” he said. “I think there's a certain profound lack of empathy in asserting that the only reason why someone would have voted the way they did is because they saw some fake news.
“If you believe that, I don’t believe you have internalised the message that Trump supporters are trying to send in this election.”
Critics of Facebook claim that it has failed to crack down on deliberately false or misleading stories, which often spread virally around the site, a claim that has been supported by studies into news on Facebook. It has also been accused of creating a “filter bubble” effect in which the News Feed ends up only showing content that supports users’ own political slants.
Zuckerberg said there were fake news stories on both sides, and that hoaxes “aren’t new on Facebook”.
He also said that the range of opinions on Facebook is more diverse than in traditional media, and that this means users are in fact often shown things that are against their own political beliefs. He said the problem was that they choose to ignore it.
“By far the biggest filter in the system is not that the content isn’t there, that you don’t have friends that support the other candidate or are of another religion, but that you just don’t click on it. You actually tune it out when you see it,” he said.
“We would all be surprised how many things that don’t conform to our own world view that we just tune out, we don’t click on them. I don’t know what to do about that, I think we should work on that.
"Presenting people with a diversity of information is an important problem in the world and one that I hope we can make more progress on, but right now the problem isn’t that the diverse information isn’t there, by any study its more there than in traditional media in the last generation, but we haven’t got people to engage with it in higher proportions.”