Tuesday, April 4, 2017

Facebook: Fake News During Presidential Election (2016)

Facebook in 2004 vs Facebook today
Facebook was created in 2004 by Harvard sophomore, Mark Zuckerberg. It was originally created for college students to connect with their classmates, and at the end of the year there were over one million members. Soon, it wasn’t only college students who could sign up, and the amount of people creating accounts skyrocketed. Now, there are 1.86 billion active members, and it's not just used to find out who's in your class, but to share news articles, recipes, and pictures of your latest vacation. Many people look on Facebook to find the latest news not only with their friends, but with what's happening in current events. In 2016, one of the largest, and most controversial, topics talked about on the internet was the Presidential election between Donald Trump and Hillary Clinton. News, real or fake, about the candidates were shared, liked, and commented on 411 million times for Hillary Clinton and 963 million times for Donald Trump. Some news site, seeing how popular the election was, made up news stories about the candidates. To the news sites, it's not about trying to tarnish the reputation of the candidates, but to take people to their website so they can generate ad revenue.

Fake news from site Departed
Individualism states that a business decision is right if it makes profit for the company, as well as being within the law. While the publication of fake news is not illegal, your publishing company might face some backlash if you harm a person or company's reputation. However, because Facebook isn’t publishing these articles, just sharing them, they don’t have to worry about that. I investigated whether this decision to not do anything about the fake news harmed the company by looking at the stock prices during the election season. As you can see, the stock prices for Facebook leading up to the election rise at a steady growth rate, so we can conclude that fake news has no impact on profit.This means the decision to not take down the fake news articles is right, according to individualism.
Stock prices of Facebook from July to October

Utilitarianism states that a business decision is right if the overall happiness for the stakeholders is increased. The three big stakeholders are Facebook, the users, and the news sites. As we saw above, Facebook as a company was not affected by this. The new sites gained happiness because the fake new articles caused people to go to their website, which generates ad revenue. The people most affected by these news stories are the users of Facebook. Fake news surrounding candidates was mostly negative, so if you were to see a bad news story about the candidate you were planning to vote for, you would feel unhappy because you would be less confident in your decision. On the other hand, if you didn't support that candidate, you would feel happiness because you are validated in you decision, therefore overall gain of happiness of the users is approximately zero. Therefore, the decision to not take down the fake news articles is right, according to utilitarianism.

Kantianism says a business decision is right if it is rational and respects all rational people involved. One important aspect of Kantianism is presenting all the information to the people, so they may make their own informed decision. Facebook does not do this, because it allows the fake facts to be presented in the same way the real ones are, so when people make ‘informed’ decisions, it is not certain they would have chosen the same candidate if they were only presented with the truth. This means Facebook did not do the right thing, according to Kant.

Virtue Theory looks at the qualities of the party making the decision and evaluates if they are living up to their potential. The four main virtues are courage, honesty, justice, and temperance. In this situation, Facebook does not show courage. I think one of the main reasons they did not take down the fake news was because of the backlash from the new sites, and maybe the users for censoring their newsfeed. They did not show honesty because they were promoting false information, after it has been proved it was false. They did show temperance, because realistically, stopping the spreading of all fake news on their platform would have been nearly impossible. They did not show justice because many of their users where fooled by the fake news they saw, and even though Facebook knew it was fake, did nothing. Facebook only showed one of the four virtues, therefore it was not a right decision.

New Facebook feature to report false stories
Evaluating the four ethnically theories leaves us without a strong conclusion, as two of the theories say it was right, and two of them say it was wrong. Personally, I think Facebook did the right thing.  They will never be able to catch all the fake articles, so people should still be skeptical of what they see on social media. Since the election, Facebook has made it easier for the user to report these stories, which give the power to the users. They also changed their ‘Trending’ feature, so instead of showing a topic based on the popularity of one article, it's now based on the activity of articles of the same topic from multiple publishers.  In the end, the event made people more aware of how not to believe everything your friends share on social media.

Works Cited
Andrew Higgins, Mike McIntire and Gabriel J.X. Dance. "Inside a Fake News Sausage Factory: 'This Is All About Income'." The New York Times. The New York Times, 25 Nov. 2016. Web. 04 Apr. 2017.
Cathcart, Will. "Continuing Our Updates to Trending." Facebook Newsroom. N.p., 25 Jan. 2017. Web. 04 Apr. 2017.
Reuters. "Why Facebook's Stock Drop Makes It a Better Buy." Facebook's Stock Drop Makes It a Better Buy: Here's Why | Fortune.com. Fortune, 03 Nov. 2016. Web. 04 Apr. 2017.
"Top 20 Facebook Statistics - Updated January 2017." Zephoria Inc. N.p., 07 Mar. 2017. Web. 04 Apr. 2017.
"2016 USA TODAY/Facebook Candidate Barometer." USA Today. Gannett Satellite Information Network, n.d. Web. 04 Apr. 2017.
Zeevi, Daniel. "The Ultimate History of Facebook [INFOGRAPHIC]." Social Media Today. N.p., 10 Aug. 2015. Web. 04 Apr. 2017.


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