We live in a weird time where people talk about lies as “fake news” or “alternative facts.” And whenever these terms are surfacing, you can be sure Facebook is pretty central to the discussion.
In large part, sources of fake news tend to appear on Facebook, littering your feed with official-looking headlines about erroneous political and global “news.” Since the fake news phenomenon (well, this generation’s iteration at least) emerged—and people began recognizing Facebook as the world’s chief distributor, the social network’s founder has been vocal about Facebook’s responsibility not to (knowingly) allow users to be mislead on his platform. He even met with people who hold a potentially different worldview from his in an ostensible effort to understand different perspectives around the country.
Zuckerberg’s apparent operating idea is that Facebook is a de facto publisher, and as such should take steps to make publish accurately—at least labeling information known to be false.
That’s what makes today’s statement by Facebook executive Sheryl Sandberg interesting. She told the BBC that Facebook does not see itself as a publisher, and in no way intends to be the “arbiter of the truth.”
Here’s what Sandberg said in context:
We are really a platform and we take our responsibilities on false news very seriously. False news hurts everyone because it makes our community uninformed, it hurts our community, it hurts countries. And we know that people want to see accurate news on Facebook and that’s what we want them to see.
I don’t think we have to be the publisher and we definitely don’t want to be the arbiter of the truth. We don’t think that’s appropriate for us. We think everyone needs to do their part. Newsrooms have to do their part, media companies, classrooms and technology companies.
Oh, this is real news.