In fake news, there's no such thing as ghosts
Despite the distorted narrative created by social platforms and indulged by key media figures, misinformation is not led by robots, foreign spies, or algorithmic aliens
David Kirkpatrick’s book The Facebook Effect attributes to Mark Zuckerberg a saying that became an instant classic. When trying to explain the News Feed mechanism to his colleagues, Facebook’s CEO said: “A squirrel dying in front of your house may be more relevant to your interests right now than people dying in Africa.”
You can think what you want about the phrase, it’s a free country (most of them anyway). And this was 2006, a time when social media’s greatest dilemma was the excess of kitten videos over hard news.
If transported 15 years into the future, this squirrel comparison would be quite different, and it would yield a much more disturbing imagine-this exercise. So, imagine this:
It’s 2021, Facebook users still don’t give a damn about “people dying in Africa” — that part hasn’t changed — and they still remain intrigued by the squirrels’ death in the front yard. Everyone’s News Feed is full of stories about the rodents — some of them are true, most are false. It turns out that the squirrels are actually being murdered by a militia group that believes these cute animals belong to a cabal that controls relevant events in the world. Moreover, there are hundreds of Facebook groups on the subject: some eagerly discuss the squirrel’s role in these events, while others urge patriotic support to hunt these little creatures. The tension all over the country creates an untenable and dangerous situation. Zuckerberg issues a statement reiterating his “commitment to working with federal officials” and saying that Facebook is “improving its ability to detect misinformation on the platform.” The same press release also points out that they “began to clear out several fake accounts” and have “removed 22 million pieces of hate speech” against squirrels…
How we (society) got to this eerily familiar scenario is easy to explain: targeted ad business model meets shadowy intentions. How they (social media companies) got away with it requires a bit more fanciful interpretation: bad…