In the wake of Donald Trump’s unexpected victory, many questions have been raised about Facebook’s role in the promotion of inaccurate and highly partisan information during the presidential race and whether this fake news influenced the election’s outcome.
A few have downplayed Facebook’s impact, including CEO Mark Zuckerberg, who said that it is “extremely unlikely” that fake news could have swayed the election. But questions about the social network’s political significance merit more than passing attention.
Do Facebook’s filtering algorithms explain why so many liberals had misplaced confidence in a Clinton victory (echoing the error made by Romney supporters in 2012)? And is the fake news being circulated on Facebook the reason that so many Trump supporters have endorsed demonstrably false statements made by their candidate?
The popular claim that “filter bubbles” are why fake news thrives on Facebook is almost certainly wrong. If the network is encouraging people to believe untruths – and that’s a big if – the problem more likely lies in how the platform interacts with basic human social tendencies. That’s far more difficult to change.