Facebook has hired Campbell Brown as a new liaison to media companies, not as someone to fix the problem of fake news being shared on the network. If you read her comments on the hiring you’ll see she’s going to be focused on making the case for Facebook to those media companies, not on finding ways to stop or suppress the spread of demonstrably false information.
Unless you believe that building those relationships is actually key to dealing with how and what news is shared, which it is, though maybe not in the way many people might expect.
When people talk about how fake news needs to be stopped it’s usually in regards to how it can be cut off at the source. How can we defund those sites that are publishing fictional news by stopping their ad revenue? How can we cut them off from getting such widespread linkage on Facebook? But it’s important to note that those approaches have no upside for Facebook and that everything the company does is focused on there being an upside for Facebook.
Instead what Brown’s role seems to be, at least from my perspective, will be about making sure that real media companies see the value in sharing their content on Facebook not through links, which anyone can do but through natively-posted Instant Articles and Live videos.
That will be the key to Facebook’s efforts to fight fake news. The company will make the case that with so much misinformation being shared through links, adding to that will get lost in the clutter. It will say that link posts are weighted equally in the News Feed, so why risk people seeing something from AmericaNews411 instead of your important and accurate story on The Washington Post? If you want to guarantee your real news will stand out, the best way to do so, it will say, is by publishing natively to the platform. That gets preferential treatment in the algorithm and people will automatically see it’s real, accurate news because not everyone gets this kind of access.
Facebook wants to own the internet and the entire user experience on web and on mobile. As long as links are used it can’t do that because they take people out of Facebook. So it’s easy to see that it will use this hubbub around “fake news” not to do any meaningful soul-searching over the role it plays in the media ecosystem but as a way to line its own pockets by saying only its products can provide the kind of verification and trust a large number of online readers are looking for. That’s dangerous for the long-term health of the media, the web and an informed electorate in many, albeit different, ways just as much as those spreading the fake news all this is meant to address.