Facebook fields fresh backlash over conspiracy sites remaining on its platform

Facebook fields fresh backlash over conspiracy sites remaining on its platform
© Greg Nash

A Twitter spat broke out between representatives of Facebook, Infowars founder Alex Jones and reporters from CNN and BuzzFeed after a Wednesday on-the-record briefing with the social media giant's staffers and reporters.

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The back and forth started in a meeting at Facebook’s New York office.

CNN reporter Oliver Darcy attended the meeting along with other reporters and Facebook’s chief of newsfeed John Hegeman and product manager Sarah Su.

Darcy pressed the company on why, despite its push to push fake news sources off its site, it still played home to Infowars, a site notorious for creating and spreading hoaxes and unsubstantiated conspiracies.

“If FB is devoted to fighting false news, how does Infowars have an account on your site?” Darcy asked, according to BuzzFeed reporter Davey Alba.

“It’s true that we take down things that are calling for violence/hate speech but I guess just for being false, that doesn't violate our Community Standards,” Hegeman responded.

Later, Darcy took the fight to Twitter, stating at a Wednesday briefing that  Facebook failed to explain why it allowed Infowars to remain on its platform after founder Alex Jones spread fake stories about crisis actors during school shootings and a “second civil war” started by Democrats.

Facebook fired back at the CNN reporter with a tweet.

“We see Pages on both the left and the right pumping out what they consider opinion or analysis — but others call fake news. We believe banning these Pages would be contrary to the basic principles of free speech,” the social media company wrote.

It explained in a follow up tweet that it demotes “individual posts etc. that are reported by FB users and rated as false by fact checkers.”

“This means they lose around 80% of any future views. We also demote Pages and domains that repeatedly share false news,” Facebook wrote.

 

Jones himself jumped into the Twitter fray, tweeting that “CNN & BuzzFeed are pissed off at Facebook because Facebook announced that it supports free speech.”

“Let that sink in,” he added.

The controversy comes as Facebook tries to repair its image, following the Cambridge Analytica data privacy scandal, revelations that Russian trolls tried to manipulate its platform to influence U.S. politics and reports about its platform became ground zero for the spread of fake and hoax news stories.

The company is running a television ad apologizing for its misgivings and arguing that it wants to get back to what made Facebook great. It has also released a video about steps it is taking to improve its news that was directed by Academy Award–winning documentary filmmaker Morgan Neville.