Facebook founder and CEO Mark Zuckerberg claims that only a “very small amount” of what appears on the social media site is fake news and hoaxes. (Courtesy photo)

Facebook founder and CEO Mark Zuckerberg claims that only a “very small amount” of what appears on the social media site is fake news and hoaxes. (Courtesy photo)

Open letter to SF ‘tech workers’: Please sway your bosses to end fake news

http://sfexaminer.com/category/the-city/sf-news-columns/on-guard/

Dear San Francisco tech workers,

Hello there, friends. Joe Fitz here, your loudmouthed, not-humble-enough dead tree columnist. I know we haven’t always gotten along. I’ve decried your role in gentrification, I’ve decried your industry’s role in local politics. But today I come to you hat in hand … I’ve got a favor to ask:

Help stem the tide of fake news.

It’s hurting our democracy — and may have helped elect Donald Trump as president (as many, from The New York Times to comedian and newsman John Oliver, have pointed out).

The pope endorses Trump. Hillary worships Satan. Black-on-white gun violence is at an all-time high. Two white men “doused with gasoline, set on FIRE by blacks.”

All are among the ridiculous (and false) headlines from fake websites that real human beings actually believe, propagated across Facebook with the sound of a million share button clicks. And Facebook isn’t alone.

The top website listed in a Google search for election results, as of this writing, wasn’t from the Washington Post or The Times, but a blog post written by a completely random crank claiming Trump won the popular vote. (He didn’t. False, false, false).

I’m not going to retread the excellently argued gravity of the fake news epidemic, covered so well by Oliver and others. But I will say this: San Franciscans can and should drive this change.

Some tech workers have taken baby steps toward this. Buzzfeed News reported an anonymous group of “renegade” employees said they are pushing their boss, founder and CEO Mark Zuckerberg, to recognize that fake news “ran wild on our platform during the entire campaign season.”

The best positioned people to lobby Facebook and Google’s masters are those who work under them. Those workers, much decried, who fly off to the Valley in those gleaming tech shuttles.

Firstly, the masters of Facebook in particular need to recognize there is a problem. Stat.

Zuckerberg, who lives on the edge of Dolores Park, mind you, posted an extensive note about the election on his Facebook page absolving his company of wrongdoing.

Zuck claimed “more than 99% of what people see [on Facebook] is authentic. Only a very small amount is fake news and hoaxes.”

He minimized Facebook’s role in the election, and added, “News and media are not the primary things people do on Facebook, so I find it odd when people insist we call ourselves a news or media company in order to acknowledge its importance.”

You’ve got to be kidding me.

Contrary to Zuck’s claim, most studies show the majority of Americans get their news through Facebook. As newspapers’ dominance fades, and social media dictates what we see, we need new gatekeepers. I’m sorry, tech, but you’re it.

Importantly, that new “gatekeeping” of facts need not come in the form of censorship. Silicon Valley could “innovate” ways of verifying news sources that allow users to self-filter not just for opinion, as they do now — but for research, accuracy or some other yardstick.

No one has all the solutions yet, but tech workers need to be driving the conversation now. You’ve only got four years until the next fake-newspocalypse. Make them count.

On Guard prints the news and raises hell each week. Email Fitz at joe@sfexaminer.com, and follow him on Twitter and Instagram @FitztheReporter.

If you find our journalism valuable and relevant, please consider joining our Examiner membership program.
Find out more at www.sfexaminer.com/join/

Just Posted

San Francisco Police Chief Bill Scott leaves the scene of an officer-involved shooting at Brannan Street and Jack London Alley in the South Park area on Friday, May 7, 2021. (Kevin N. Hume/S.F. Examiner)
Chief Scott issues rare apology to man shot by SF police

Officer says he ‘did not intend for his firearm to go off’

Despite the pandemic, San Francisco has ended the fiscal year with a budget surplus. (Kevin N. Hume/S.F. Examiner)
Better than expected tax revenues leave city with $157.3M surplus for this year

As the fiscal year nears an end and Mayor London Breed prepares… Continue reading

Passengers board a BART train bound for the San Francisco Airport at Powell Street station. (Kevin N. Hume/S.F. Examiner)
BART bumps up service restoration to August 30, offers fare discounts

Rail agency breaks pandemic ridership records, prepares to welcome more passengers

Ashley and Michelle Monterrosa hold a photo of their brother Sean Monterrosa, who was killed by a Vallejo police officer early Tuesday morning, as they are comforted at a memorial rally at the 24th Street Mission BART plaza on Friday, June 5, 2020. (Kevin N. Hume/S.F. Examiner)
State Department of Justice to investigate Sean Monterrosa shooting by Vallejo police

Attorney General Rob Bonta steps in after Solano County DA declines case

Gov. Gavin Newsom, show here speaking at the City College of San Francisco mass vaccination site in April, faces a recall election due to anger on the right over his handling of the pandemic, among other issues. (Kevin N. Hume/S.F. Examiner)
Why Gavin Newsom’s popularity could work against him in the recall election

Top pollster: ‘We’re not seeing the Democrats engaged in this election. And that may be a problem…’

Most Read