Book Review: Can the Mighty Facebook Control Fake News?

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This cover image posted by Harper shows “An Ugly Truth: Inside Facebook’s Battle for Domination” by Sheera Frenkel and Cecilia Kang. (Harper via AP)

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“An Ugly Truth”, by Sheera Frenkel and Cecilia Kang (Harper)

Authors Sheera Frenkel and Cecilia Kang in “An Ugly Truth” convincingly demonstrate that Facebook has moved beyond its origins as a place to share birthdays, holiday photos, and family and friends’ news into a system of sharing. delivery perfectly suited to the spread of extremist views and blatant untruths.

It should be borne in mind that by signing up with Facebook, we are all voluntarily ceding personal information that provides fundamental net worth to the ability of Facebook’s computer algorithms to guide us targeted messages.

How do you organize and verify the range of posts and advertisements produced by Facebook users, good and bad?

The book details how it took months for the company to find the origins of some of the ads that Russian interests placed during the 2016 presidential campaign. One ad, for example, featured a forged image of Hilary Clinton in a hijab, a veil worn by Muslim women. You can imagine the reception of this announcement among conservative Americans.

From the start, Zuckerberg envisioned an online site that would connect the world, a place where people could share their lives, hopes, favorites, and news. No one seems to have foreseen that Facebook and other social media could become such powerful tools for disinformation campaigns. Recently, many have argued that this allows outright fiction about COVID-19 vaccines to flourish.

Facebook says it promotes authoritative information about vaccines. Additionally, Facebook claims that neither the FBI nor any US intelligence agency knew the extent of Russian interference efforts in the 2016 election.

Can Congress Regulate Facebook and Other Social Media Giants? As the authors write, during a Senate hearing in 2018, many senators did not seem to understand the basics of how Facebook works. It’s tempting to conclude from Frenkel and Kang’s book that Zuckerberg lacks the leadership and management skills to guide the colossus he created. Where would he get those skills? He started Facebook in college and has been its boss ever since.

Did advertisements containing outright lies influence the 2016 presidential election? We do not know yet. And we may never do, but Frankel and Kang make a compelling argument that, in the interest of preserving democracy, we must take steps to purge Facebook of outright lies, hate and disinformation now.

No one has quite figured out how to do this yet.


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