Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg apologized Wednesday for once calling the idea that fake news on the social media platform impacted the results of the 2016 presidential election “pretty crazy.”
“After the election, I made a comment that I thought the idea misinformation on Facebook changed the outcome of the election was a crazy idea,” Zuckerberg wrote in a Facebook post. “Calling that crazy was dismissive and I regret it. This is too important an issue to be dismissive.”
Zuckerberg has been criticized in past months for not doing enough to combat the ostensible problem of misleading news stories circulating on the platform.
Despite automatically identifying a post as legitimate or fraudulent being a highly difficult task for Facebook, since subjectivity seems to be liable to even the most seemingly scientific processes, that condemnation has increased further in recent weeks.
Facebook admitted to congressional investigators earlier in the month that it sold political ads to a suspicious Russian firm during the run-up to the 2016 election. The social media company turned over all information to special counsel Robert Mueller, which included copies of the ads and the ostensible identity of the purchasers. Zuckerberg made a pledge to do more to protect “election integrity” after providing the documents to Mueller, who is currently investigating Russian efforts to influence the presidential election.
Most of the advertisements did not focus on President Donald Trump or then-Democratic presidential candidate Hillary Clinton, and the ad sales merely amounted to $100,000. As Axios reporter Sara Fischer notes, that is a very small amount, especially in a two-year time span. The meager number of ads relative to the larger, massive political advertisement ecosystem means that the ultimate impact on the election was probably limited.
“For all its the emotional appeal, the idea that Russia was able to change the outcome of the presidential election with a $100,000 Facebook ad buy is absurd. If it were true, then every political consultant in the U.S. would be out of a job,” Richard Bennett, one of the original creators of the Wi-Fi system, told The Daily Caller News Foundation. “Hillary and her supporters spent lots of money on social media campaigns, just not as wisely as the Trump campaign. The election turned out the way it did because Hillary not only failed to win the white working class vote, she didn’t even bother to ask for it. Voters don’t like being disrespected.” (RELATED: BuzzFeed Wants You To Fear Facebook’s Algorithms)
While Zuckerberg purportedly now believes that false news on Facebook did have an effect to some extent, he still chooses to defend his company on several occasions, even partially alluding to the key point made by Bennett.
“Campaigns spent hundreds of millions advertising online to get their messages out even further. That’s 1000x more than any problematic ads we’ve found,” Zuckerberg wrote. “The data we have has always shown that our broader impact — from giving people a voice to enabling candidates to communicate directly to helping millions of people vote — played a far bigger role in this election.”
In fact, he actually seems somewhat frustrated with the two-pronged criticism.
“Trump says Facebook is against him. Liberals say we helped Trump,” Zuckerberg wrote. “Both sides are upset about ideas and content they don’t like. That’s what running a platform for all ideas looks like.”
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