There was, for example, this story from the nonexistent Denver Guardian about an FBI agent associated with Hillary Clinton‘s email leaks being found dead in a murder suicide. Or this one about the Pope endorsing Trump.
Even President Barack Obama called out Facebook by name on Monday, the day before the election. “As long as it’s on Facebook, and people can see it, as long as it’s on social media, people start believing it,” Obama said at a Michigan rally. “And it creates this dust cloud of nonsense.”
Mark Zuckerberg doesn’t buy that fake stories played a role in the election outcome.
“Personally, I think the idea that fake news on Facebook — it’s a very small amount of the content — to think it influenced the election in any way is a pretty crazy idea,” Facebook’s CEO said during an interview Thursday at the Techonomy conference in Half Moon Bay, California.
Instead, he thinks some people are shocked and still trying to understand the results of the election.
“It takes a profound lack of empathy to think that someone voted some way because of a fake news story,” Zuckerberg said.
The discussion comes, of course, two days after the presidential election in the United States. Trump won the office in an upset victory, which blindsided many people — including pollsters and pundits — who believed Clinton, the Democratic nominee, would become the next president.
Facebook, the news source
Facebook, with its 1.79 billion users, has a major responsibility on its hands as more people look to the social network to get their news. More than 40 percent of American adults get their news from Facebook, according to the Pew Research Center and Knight Foundation.
Earlier on Thursday, Adam Mosseri, vice president of product management at Facebook, said in a statement that “there’s so much more we need to do,” to fight the spread of misinformation on the social network.
In the aftermath of the election, some have also been blaming Facebook for how shocking the result was, arguing that the social network promotes tunnel vision because people are supposedly only exposed to viewpoints aligned with their own. After all, your Facebook feed is made up of posts from only people you choose to populate it. So, the argument goes, there’s a Facebook that liberals see and one that conservatives see, depending on the political views of your friends on the site.
Plus, Facebook has an algorithm that decides exactly what you see on your News Feed. Generally, it learns from what you’ve clicked on or Liked in the past, as well as other signals, and shows you more of what fits your interests.
Even though the algorithm learns from your cues, Facebook still has an awesome amount of power to potentially shape someone’s worldview. Zuckerberg denied that Facebook is an echo chamber. He argued that Facebook actually exposes you to more viewpoints, because everyone has at least a small number of friends who hold opposing opinions.
Zuckerberg emphasized that Facebook does show people stories they may not agree with, but that sometimes people just tune them out.
“It’s not that the diverse information isn’t there,” he said. “We haven’t gotten people to engage with it in higher proportions.”
This isn’t the first time Facebook has been scrutinized for what it does or doesn’t show us. The social network drew ire earlier this year after reports claimed Facebook encouraged its editorial contractors to suppress conservative news in its “trending stories” feature. Soon after that, the feature was redesigned to be more robotic, without human-written descriptions or curation.
Zuckerberg was also asked about his thoughts on the election results in general. In the past, he’s been critical of Trump. In April, he took a thinly-veiled shot at then-candidate Trump onstage at F8, Facebook’s most important conference of the year. Without referring to Trump by name, he talked about the dangers of “building walls,” a nod to Trump’s campaign promise to build a wall along the Mexican-American border.
Trump has previously attacked Zuckerberg, too, calling the tech CEO’s push for more-open immigration through his public interest group Fwd.us a bad move for American workers.
On Thursday, Zuckerberg was more diplomatic. “Well we have a lot of work to do,” he said. “But that would have been true either way.”