Facebook was heavily criticized this week for its “Related Articles” algorithm after users who clicked to read a real news story about Michelle Obama on The Boston Globe’s Facebook page were offered two fake stories called “President and First Lady Caught Having S*X in the Oval Office” and “Barack Has Lost All Control Of Michelle.”
Facebook selects and promotes stories based on popularity on the site and word association, though they do not verify whether or not content is true. Emily Bell, director of Columbia Journalism School’s Tow Center for Digital Journalism, criticized the site, which is one of the biggest content sharing platforms in the world, for irresponsibly promoting content that isn’t true.
“They have really screwed up,” she told The Boston Globe. “If you are spreading false information, you have a serious problem on your hands. They shouldn’t be recommending stories until they have got it figured out.”
Facebook responded to the criticism by saying that they are merely a content aggregator, and are no more responsible for verifying news stories than they are for checking up on the content in users’ status updates. However, media critics say the site should take more responsibility for what it promotes.
“There is absolutely a danger here to the manipulation of an information platform,” Nicholas Diakopoulos, a fellow at Columbia’s Tow Center, told the Globe. “The algorithms influence what we see, influence us to do certain things. It certainly could skew perceptions. It could spread misinformation.”