In the weeks since Facebook fired the humans who curated its “trending” news feed, its algorithmic floodgates opened up for fake stories, conspiracy theories and internet bile. This week, the company insisted it is a “neutral” platform that needs no editors, even while it censored art, spread false news and deleted a post by Norway’s prime minister because it included a Pulitzer-winning photo from the Vietnam war. The leader had called for Facebook to “review its editing policy”, and the company eventually restored the post.
In a semi-regular column, we’ll highlight what Facebook doesn’t want to: the bogus stories, clickbait and disinformation being framed as legitimate news by one of the most powerful tech companies on Earth.
As the anniversary of the worst terrorist attack in American history nears, false stories alleging proof of a conspiracy have found a home in Facebook’s trending box. In this example, spotted byJessica Contrera at the Washington Post, Facebook linked to a tabloid, the Daily Star, which has also published accounts of alien moon bases and Hillary Clinton coughing up “alien eggs”.
The post in question links to article in Europhysics News, by a professor who left Brigham Young University in disgrace and a retired professor and two longtime 9/11 truthers. In a short disclaimer, the magazine editors carefully distanced themselves from the article, noting that “it contains some speculation”. “Obviously, the content of this article is the responsibility of the authors,” they wrote.
The article’s major contention is that the official investigation into the physics of the attack were not comprehensive enough, followed by a long discussion of the resemblance between how the towers fell and techniques of controlled demolition. The footage cited by the Daily Star was “made by people with a similar theory” and does not in fact prove anything. For over a decade top engineers have disproven such conspiracy theories.
Facebook has also been boosting stories that allege, without evidence, worries about Hillary Clinton’s health. The main story being shared is hosted by a marketing firm, PR Newswire, which has spread a press release by a group of conservative doctors who call themselves the Association of American Physicians and Surgeons.
The group vociferously opposes Barack Obama’s healthcare act and taxes on tobacco products, and believes it is “evil” to work with certain government medical programs. The group has also suggested that Obama uses “hypnotic induction” and has challenged the safety of vaccinations, despite a century of research that has proven them safe, effective and critical against many diseases.
Unlike her rival Donald Trump, Clinton has released fairly detailed medical records. There is no evidence to suggest the 68-year-old should be worried about her health.
Facebook also recently spread a three-paragraph “breaking” post on the website Conservative 101, which claimed that Fox News host Megyn Kelly “is on the way out”. Kelly reportedly spoke with lawyers investigating claims of sexual harassment by former Fox chairman Roger Ailes, who left the network following allegations by several women of years of abuse. Kelly still works for Fox News.
The author, a prolific writer known only as Justin, has rattled off similarly mendacious posts about how Hillary Clinton “can’t read” and how quarterback Colin Kaepernick was “benched” for his protests over police brutality.
Elsewhere in the dramatic world of rightwing media, Facebook boosted a blogpost hailing Meghan McCain, daughter of Arizona senator John McCain, for having “set fire to Hillary’s Campaign”. The short post contains no actual news, only praise for comments made by McCain on Fox News, where she briefly expressed disbelief about FBI findings into Clinton’s email practices. The post does not mention that she has also rejected the Republican party’s nominee, Donald Trump.