Earlier this week, Facebook invited journalists to come hear what the company is up to these days with regards to the platform’s fake-news problems. Amid pledges and promises and evidence of progress, CNN’s Oliver Darcy started asking questions about infamous conspiracy theorist Alex Jones and his media company Infowars — specifically, how Facebook reconciles its commitment to reducing or eliminating misinformation while also allowing Infowars to maintain a page. (Remember that time Jones claimed the Democrats were supposedly going to launch a civil war on the Fourth of July? Right.)
When asked, John Hegeman, the head of Facebook’s News Feed, told the room that Facebook would be leaving Infowars alone. “I guess just for being false that doesn’t violate the community standards,” Hegeman said, according to CNN. “I think part of the fundamental thing here is that we created Facebook to be a place where different people can have a voice. And different publishers have very different points of view.” Sara Su, a Facebook product specialist for News Feed who also answered questions at the press conference, called Infowars “really problematic.” (One of Alex Jones’s best-known “really problematic” and “different points of view” is that the Sandy Hook school shooting was a false-flag conspiracy.) Hegeman also told Darcy that Infowars had “not violated something that would result in them being taken down.” “There’s a ton of stuff — conspiracy theories, misleading claims, cherry picking — that we know can be really problematic and it bugs me too,” Su said. “But we need to figure out a way to really define that in a clear way, and then figure out what our policy and our product positions are about that.”
So far, par for the Facebook-on-its-misinformation-problem course. But then Facebook’s communications shop, via its official account, started directly responding to journalists on Twitter with even less substantive — and even glibber — explanations: “Both the left and the right have a misinformation problem!” (Most academic studies of misinformation on social media indicates that there is an asymmetrical polarization problem in which right-wing outlets cluster on the far-right side of a partisanship scale, while liberal outlets are broadly spread out across their half of the spectrum.)
Disagree? Well, sorry you feel that way.
The coup de grâce, though, was “look over there at YouTube and Twitter!”
“We allow people to post it as a form of expression, but we’re not going to show it at the top of News Feed,” a Facebook spokesperson later told CNN. Which, great, I guess. But as a non-follower of Infowars, it’s not my feed I’m particularly worried about being clogged with fake news. Rather, the 900,000 or so people who follow Alex Jones.