SAN FRANCISCO — If you’ve found yourself blaming social media for electing Donald Trump, you’re wrong.
So says Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg, who was emphatic that his company was not responsible for influencing people’s votes.
Fake news stories went viral about both candidates — although there were far more lies about Hillary Clinton — and the platform seemed to do to little to filter out inaccurate content.
Now, people are wondering how much impact that content had on the outcome of the presidential election.
“Personally, I think the idea that fake news on Facebook — of which it’s a small amount of content — influenced the election in any way is a pretty crazy idea,” Zuckerberg said at the Techonomy conference Thursday.
But he didn’t just try to absolve Facebook — he encouraged anyone criticizing the company to do some soul searching of their own.
“I do think there is a profound lack of empathy in asserting that the only reason someone could’ve voted the way they did is fake news,” he said.
His comments demonstrated a bit of a misunderstanding about how people use social media. A recent Pew study found 20 percent of users have “modified their stance on a social or political issue because of material they saw on social media.”
This election cycle, some of the top fake news stories were shared millions of times on Facebook.
Already, Facebook’s news feed creates filter bubbles — its technology learns the kind of content you like and shows you more of it, pushing opposing opinions lower in your feed or not showing them to you at all.
Zuckerberg said Facebook’s internal research suggests filter bubbles are not a problem, and that Facebook provides greater diversity of information than other media outlets. (Other research has suggested the opposite.)
More than 2 billion people use Facebook, and it’s in the unique position of controlling what information, news, events, and interests those people see.
Zuckerberg gave no indication that Facebook was doing a post mortem on its role in the election except to say that the platform is always changing and “it’s not fully formed, and we’ll keep improving it.”
Other tech firms may also be going through a self-reckoning.
Twitch cofounder and tech investor Justin Kan said companies should take a look at the role technology played in this election.
“Have we created systems that bring us together to find common ground, or have we created systems that divide us?” Kan said.
Twitter alums also reflected on the role Twitter played in the election. Software engineer Ben Matasar posed the question to his former colleagues: What did we build?
Responses to his tweet from former Twitter employees varied. Some called Twitter a platform for positive connections, others a “destroyer of worlds.”
A significant social autopsy is required to understand the role technology, Facebook and the dissemination of fake news played in this election. But unless tech companies truly reckon with the power they have to wield information and influence beliefs, the bubbles we create for ourselves aren’t likely to go away.