Facebook VP Dodges ‘Fake News’ Question by Saying Site is a Giant Echo Chamber


The conversation about Facebook’s role in the spread of “fake news” (or manufactured stories, or whatever term you prefer) continued on Thursday thanks to a new interview with Nicola Mendelsohn, the company’s Vice President for Europe, the Middle East and Africa. The Telegraph published the above clip of a chat with Mendelsohn that dealt primarily with the topic of Facebook’s role in the spread of disinformation, with the executive steadfastly denying that her company should be doing anything different.

Mendelsohn initially dodged the question she got on the topic, though. Asked what percentage of news on Facebook was “made up,” she answered a completely different question. “I don’t have the actual numbers, but what I do know is it’s a very, very small proportion of the news that people see isn’t the news that they wanted to see,” she said. “So it’s very small indeed.” When the interviewer pressed her for a rough estimate, throwing out 80% and 90% as guesses, she replied by saying “Much higher than that.” That’s…not what she was asked about. It’s hard to tell if she was obfuscating or legitimately just didn’t understand the question, especially since her answer, about users only seeing seeing “the news that they wanted to see,” arguably contributes to the “fake news” problem.

When the interviewer pressed Mendelsohn on why Facebook is going to third parties to fact check the news filtering through the platform, she deflected again. “Facebook is a platform where people can share the things that matter to them, that people can choose to follow …you know, their friends, their families, brands, entertainment, celebrities, you [the interviewer], all around the world,” she said. “They, the people, are choosing, what they want to choose, what they want to see. The responsibility is there in terms of you choose your Facebook, and we make sure that the information being put out there is the information that people want to see.”

The clip closes with one final question on the topic: “Do you accept the fact that Facebook is a publisher?” Mendelsohn stood firm with Facebook’s messaging on that topic. “No, we accept the fact that Facebook is a tech company that is an open platform that people can come and put their news stories out on,” she said. When the interviewer pressed her, arguing that Facebook’s role in disseminating the news made them a publisher, she replied with “No, we’re not publishing. We’re a platform that people can come to in order to put their news stories out on, and there is a difference.”

To be clear, those who argue Facebook needs to take more responsibility don’t push the idea that Facebook should censor users. It’s a matter of what they have as featured/trending/etc., with the idea that an echo chamber can get something hot enough that it’s then distributed to the Facebook user base at large. If this interview is any indication, it seems like Mendelsohn either doesn’t understand the issue at all or is deliberately trying to skew the discussion.

[Photo: Telegraph screen grab]

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