Liberal MPs are worried about the growing prevalence of fake news on the Internet, calling on Facebook to take steps to stop the phenomenon from infecting Canadian politics.
As use of social media spreads, misleading headlines and false news items are shared with increasing speed on electronic devices, as was seen around the time of the Nov. 8 U.S. election.
U.S. President Barack Obama said on Thursday the advent of fake news makes it increasingly hard to “discriminate between serious arguments and propaganda,” creating a problem in the U.S. political process.
Liberal MPs relayed similar concerns at a hearing of the Canadian Heritage committee of the House, pressing officials from Facebook Canada to find ways to stop fake items from spreading north.
“There are a lot of people worried right now,” Liberal MP Seamus O’Regan said. “By the time a fabricated story about the Pope endorsing president-elect Donald Trump was proven bogus, it had been shared one million times.” In reference to the reach of Facebook, Mr. O’Reagan added: “With great powers come great responsibilities.”
Liberal MP Hedy Fry, who is the chair of the committee, said the election of Mr. Trump and the Brexit referendum earlier this year in the U.K. show that “people believe what they read.”
“This is at the heart of what many of us are concerned about,” she said. “How can a democracy be well served when the information isn’t verifiable?”
The head of public policy for Facebook Canada, Kevin Chan, said his firm had already taken steps to get rid of “click bait” headlines that attract viewers, but provide little content of value.
He acknowledged concerns that Facebook is becoming an “echo chamber” for its users and that its algorithm provides a single point of view on important political matters.
However, Mr. Chan said the beauty of Facebook is that it aggregates and prioritizes news items that have been shared by a user’s friends, family members, colleagues and acquaintances, creating a broad selection of information.
“You will likely see much more diverse views expressed on Facebook than you would in the past, where you would have presumably interacted with five to 10 people a day, or consumed your content from one particular television station or one newspaper,” Mr. Chan said.
In answer to Ms. Fry’s question, Mr. Chan said: “I want you to know, and I want the parliamentary committee to know, that obviously Facebook takes very seriously our responsibilities.”
Mr. Chan said Facebook is taking steps to address concerns about fake news. While not providing details, he referred MPs to a recent statement by Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg, who said the company will move cautiously to weed out hoaxes from its news feeds, while preserving opinion pieces.
“Only a very small amount is fake news and hoaxes. The hoaxes that do exist are not limited to one partisan view, or even to politics. Overall, this makes it extremely unlikely hoaxes changed the outcome of this election in one direction or the other,” Mr. Zuckerberg said.
The Canadian Heritage committee of the House is studying the future of local news in the country, which is affected by Facebook’s far-reaching influence over advertising budgets and readership trends.
Ken Waddell, who publishes three newspapers in southern Manitoba, told the committee he posts material to Facebook and uses the site to find out what’s going on in his community. However, Facebook also eats up much of the advertising dollars that used to go to publishers like him.
“It’s a little scary to us,” he said.Report Typo/Error