Report: Fear of backlash halted Facebook crackdown on fake news

Report: Fear of backlash halted Facebook crackdown on fake news
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Facebook is denying a Monday report that fear of a conservative backlash led the company to avoid cracking down on fake news posts.

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Two sources “with direct knowledge of the company’s decision-making” told Gizmodo that Facebook had conducted a comprehensive review of its products and policies earlier in the year to mitigate any appearance of bias.

Senior Facebook officials were briefed on an update that would have detected stories reporting false news, but it reportedly would have affected right-wing news sites in much higher numbers. The update was allegedly nixed after the briefing.

“They absolutely have the tools to shut down fake news,” said one of the sources. “There was a lot of fear about upsetting conservatives after Trending Topics. A lot of product decisions got caught up in that.”

When asked about the report, a Facebook spokesperson denied the existence of such a tool to The Hill.

"The article’s allegation is not true," the spokesperson wrote in an email. "We did not build and withhold any News Feed changes based on their potential impact on any one political party."

Facebook’s role and operations in media have been heavily scrutinized in the 2016 election cycle.

In August, Facebook fired its team of news curators who managed the trending section and switched over to one run by algorithms after taking criticism from conservative lawmakers over allegations of bias.

The Wall Street Journal reported in October that Facebook declined to take down President-elect Donald TrumpDonald John TrumpO’Malley tells Dems not to fear Trump Right way and wrong way Five things to know about the elephant trophies controversy MORE’s posts that may have qualified as “hate speech” under Facebook’s terms, out of fear of appearing partial.

After the election, Facebook endured reproach for allowing dissemination of fake news on its platform, which advocates say could have helped Trump at the ballot box. This criticism has reportedly gained the attention of high-level Facebook employees, who fretted over the company’s image in the wake of Trump’s election.