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Facebook should not police "fake news"

By Scott Tibbs, August 3, 2018

I have been involved in political debate for over twenty years. Almost as soon as I said something, I was called a "liar" and accused of making things up by an anonymous troll. In any type of political discussion at any level, the L word starts getting tossed around almost immediately if the debate is even slightly contentious. Everybody calls everybody else a liar. Sometimes that is justified and sometimes it is not.

And this is why Facebook should not censor "fake news" on its platform. The obvious questions: How do we define what is fake and what is not? What happens when something dismissed as fake is eventually proven true, which has happened? What happens when a narrative everyone believes turns out to be false? Can that be retroactively deleted?

Consider this: There are 2 billion people on Facebook. If Facebook gets into the business of policing "fake" content, then that is all they will ever do. I have moderated small forums. It can be a pain in the neck. Even moderating comments on my own personal Facebook profile can be a pain. Moderation is a headache. It is not surprising that Facebook does not want to give its moderators more work to do.

The answer, then, is to have Facebook's content standards be very limited. Ban things like porn, specific threats of violence and doxxing. Fake news is best left to readers and fact checkers. I suspect one of the reasons that fake news stories get more engagement is that people are debunking them in the comments. I have seen this many times. Even if you could banish all fake news from Facebook, you run the risk of giving it credibility because it is not getting debunked.

Facebook's system and their mods are not perfect. There are some things that are on the platform which should be removed, and there have been things removed that do not violate user guidelines. But policing "fake news" will make things worse, not better - especially if those policing "fake news" are doing so from a partisan slant. All of us know this is exactly what will happen.