'Misinformer of the Year' award goes to Mark Zuckerberg

Sasha Lekach

Rupert Murdoch, Sean Hannity, Glenn Beck.

Those are some of the big media figures Facebook founder and CEO Mark Zuckerberg is joining with this year's dubious distinction of "Misinformer of the Year."

That's the title given to the social media mastermind from Media Matters for America, a progressive media watchdog group that tracks conservative news outlets. After a wild 2016 election, the group started paying closer attention to media platforms like Facebook, Twitter, Snapchat, Google, YouTube, and others.

Traditionally the group roasts a media personality working either behind the scenes or as the face of blatantly biased information. But this year, in the wake of so much fake news that spread almost effortlessly through social networks, the group looked at how this phenomena is happening.

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That led them straight to Zuck.

Facebook has claimed it's working on its fake news problem, and even reversed course on its "who, us?" stance about its impact on the election.

"After the election, I made a comment that I thought the idea misinformation on Facebook changed the outcome of the election was a crazy idea," Zuckerberg said in a statement earlier this year. "Calling that crazy was dismissive and I regret it. This is too important an issue to be dismissive."

While MMFA President Angelo Carusone credits Facebook for trying to curb the fake news problem, its various steps in the past year have fallen short.

Media Matters decided enough is enough, citing the lack of genuine commitment from Zuckerberg to do anything about the problems highlighted in the election.

"Much of what Facebook has done in 2017 has amounted more to a public relations effort than a deeper systemic and underlying approach," Carusone said in a phone call about the award. "What the election did was really illustrate the underlying problems — enabling all this right-wing misinformation and misinformation more broadly."

Facebook did not respond to a request for comment. Zuckerberg's Facebook pages says he is currently on parental leave.

Facebook has repeatedly failed in one major way: to provide reliable, accurate information in its newsfeed and through its constantly changing algorithms, Carusone said.

"People don’t just want timely, relevant content, but have an expectation of content being reliable," Carusone said.

Small efforts like the newly implemented "trust indictor" icon aren't enough to overcome this giant problem.

With two-thirds of Facebook users getting news on the site, according to 2016 data from Pew Research Center, the platform has become how a lot of people see the world.

One of the most highly trafficked fake news stories ever is the false story that Obama banned the pledge of allegiance in schools — something sites like factcheck.org and Snopes had to debunk. Thanks to Facebook, stories like that thrived.

A fact-checking program implemented on the site also didn't go far enough, Carusone believes. "Fact-checking is just window dressing," he said. It doesn't help that the fact-checking journalists themselves didn't think the program was very effective.

What really stands out to Carusone is the deadly impact of fake news.

"You can look back at fake news stories that were spreading exclusively in Myanmar that led not just to kidnappings but murdering of individuals," he said.

This is serious stuff beyond a potentially compromised election.

"This is not just people getting harassed, but getting killed," he said.

Carusone wants to be fair and distinguish between Facebook and its founder. The Media Matters president acknowledges Facebook as a company has acknowledged it has a fake news problem, but it still hasn't made big, significant changes. "Facebook isn’t taking the necessary steps to address the problem," he said.

Facebook, to its credit, did take action in October to better control targeted advertisements on its site. Fake information was spreading through ads targeting specific populations, like a post of actor Aziz Ansari telling people to text in their votes. That's legit fake news and Facebook set up systems to block it.

What really bothers Carusone is the inaction to prevent this misinformation debacle from happening again. "What are the mechanisms put in place to inoculate us from having a similar thing happen again?"

And for that inability to take on the ongoing fake news problem and plan for the next big election, Carusone thinks Zuckerberg's misinformer title is more than fitting.

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