Facebook Admits To More Metrics Errors As Pressure Over ‘Fake News’ Grows

Facebook has admitted to more errors with its metrics as the social media giant comes under increased pressure over the distribution of “fake news” which critics says could have influenced the outcome of the US presidential election. 

In a post yesterday, Facebook listed a series of issues – including a calculation error in Instant Articles which led to the the average time spent per article being overreported by between seven and eight per cent on average since August of last year – and the steps it was taking to fix the problems. 

Lynne Anderson, News Media Association deputy chief executive, said: “The admission of yet more Facebook metrics errors is of concern to the news media industry, at a time when publishers are themselves investing heavily to provide advertisers with ever more robust, independent audience data. It is critical that publishers are able to see with complete clarity where, when and how consumers are engaging with their content.  

“More broadly, questions over the widespread consumption of ‘fake news’ distributed by the big online players and its possible influence on the outcome of the US presidential election reinforce the importance of trusted genuine journalism.”

Google and Facebook have come under pressure in recent weeks for their distribution of “fake news” which critics claim could have influenced the outcome of the US presidential election. Analysis by Buzzfeed suggests that, in the final three months of the US presidential campaign, the top-performing fake election news stories on Facebook generated more engagement than the top stories from major news outlets such as the New York Times, Washington Post, Huffington Post, NBC News, and others.

Campaign reported that both Google and Facebook had responded by removing advertising from fake news websites.  “The announcements come as Google chief executive Sundar Pichai admitted to the BBC that fake news spread on the search engine and on social networks could have swung the election in Donald Trump’s favour,” Campaign reported. 

In a leader this week, The Times said news media outlets which invested in properly researched journalism were the answer to the problem of fake news damaging public debate. The leader said: “The internet in its early years was hailed as the media’s great diversifier and democratiser. News outlets were able to multiply and challenge established ones quickly and at low cost. This, however, has not meant that consumers necessarily use a wider range of sources.

“On the contrary, they are more free than ever to read, hear and watch only what they want to and have their views reflected back. Truth and fiction are blurred. Research has shown that fake news is more likely to go viral than real. The argument about whether more of it is produced by the right than the left is unlikely to be resolved soon. In the meantime there is a solution, and you are holding (or at least reading) it.

“Numbers alone determine which topics are trending in the Facebook universe. But software is only unbiased in that it does not care what you believe, or believe to be true. An algorithm can measure your “likes” and their correlation with others’ at lightning speed, but it cannot distinguish between truth and falsehood. Once it knows your preferences, in news stories as in film genres, fabrications are reinforced rather than corrected.

“Traditional news outlets such as The Times are the obvious antidote. We offer real news, carefully checked, clearly distinguished from opinion and corrected if found to be in error, and we make no apology for promoting ourselves here. The stakes could hardly be higher.”