Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg shrugged off assertions that proliferation of hoax news stories on Facebook influenced the outcome of the U.S. presidential election Thursday during an on-stage interview at the Techonomy conference in Half Moon Bay.
"You know, personally, I think the idea that fake news on Facebook -- it's a very small amount of the content -- influenced the election in any way is a pretty crazy idea," he told Techonomy founder David Kirkpatrick, author of "The Facebook Effect: The Inside Story of the Company that is Connecting the World."
After Republican Donald Trump's victory in the presidential race Tuesday, numerous media outlets are raising questions about whether hoax news played a notable role in the candidate's rise and in stoking sharp divisions among users of differing political views.
Zuckerberg said Thursday that "voters make decisions based on their lived experience," continuing, "Part of what I think is going on here is people are trying to understand results of the election, but I do think that there is a certain profound lack of empathy in asserting that the only reason that some of them are voting the way they did is because they saw some fake news. I think that if you believe that, then I don't think you have internalized the message that Trump supporters are trying to send in this election."
He suggested claims that fake news was common on the platform were exaggerated. "The quickest way to I think refute the fact that this surely had no impact is why do you think there would be fake news on one side or the other. We know, we study this, we know that it's a very small volume of anything," he said, adding, "There have been hoaxes on the internet, there were hoaxes before."
Many media organizations are raising concerns that Facebook isn't doing enough to filter out blatantly false information. Journalists say proliferation of fake news can largely be pinned to the economic incentive underlying producing it. Appealing to users' emotions and biases, fake news posts spread rapidly.
Calling Facebook a "a sewer of misinformation," Joshua Benton of Harvard's Nieman Lab wrote in a post published Wednesday, "Our democracy has a lot of problems, but there are few things that could impact it for the better more than Facebook starting to care -- really care -- about the truthfulness of the news that its users share and take in."
He offered by way of example a string of headlines that were posted alongside news from verified sources on the wall of his Louisiana home town's mayor: Hillary Clinton Calling for Civil War If Trump Is Elected. Pope Francis Shocks World, Endorses Donald Trump for President. Barack Obama Admits He Was Born in Kenya. FBI Agent Who Was Suspected Of Leaking Hillary's Corruption Is Dead.
"These are not legit anti-Hillary stories. (There were plenty of those, to be sure, both on his page and in this election cycle.) These are imaginary, made up, frauds," Benton wrote.
New York Magazine's Max Read wrote in a post published Wednesday that allowing for the proliferation of hoax news is "the most obvious way in which Facebook enabled a Trump victory."
"The valiant efforts of Snopes and other debunking organizations were insufficient; Facebook's labyrinthine sharing and privacy settings mean that fact-checks get lost in the shuffle," he wrote.
To Zuckerberg, the charges apparently sound inflated. He told Kirkpatrick, in response to the host mentioning reports employees had pushed for Facebook to remove posts by Trump they considered hate speech, "My mission is to give more people a voice."
He said it was not the platform's place to impose its opinion on users. "Our real goal is to reflect what our community wants," he said.
As a presidential candidate--and now president elect--who has at present more than 800 thousand followers on the platform, Trump's comments are part of the mainstream political discourse, said Zuckerberg.