48 Hours in Facebook’s Unreality
In the fact-free world of what trends on Facebook, everything is going swimmingly in Donald Trump’s America over the last 48 hours—even if none of it is true.
America’s biggest celebrities are flipping to Trump, manufacturing plants are shutting down in Mexico and moving back to Ohio, and Barack Obama is admitting to mountains of treasonous activities on Facebook since Monday morning.
But none of that is happening in reality, a distinctly different place from the news on the most popular social network on earth, even if millions of its daily active users—and Facebook’s CEO—are unable to recognize the disconnect.
Mark Zuckerberg has been in the crosshairs this week, even from within his own company, for saying he believes “it’s a pretty crazy idea” that “fake news on Facebook, which is a very small amount of content, influenced the election in any way.”
He should take a look at the most shared stories on his website, according to trend analysis site Trendolizer, and see if he can reconcile his PR statement with the truth.
At least a dozen stories with no basis in reality—most of them favoring Donald Trump—broke Facebook’s trending algorithm Monday and Tuesday, as the new president-elect took to his own Twitter account to repeatedly deride fact-checked newspapers like The New York Times.
Early Monday, exclusively on Facebook and a series of websites like AmericanNews.com, one of America’s biggest celebrities, Denzel Washington, offered up a full-throated endorsement of Trump.
“Denzel Washington Backs Trump in the Most Epic Way Possible,” the headline read. “Denzel is now Team Trump!”
The story was shared 10,000 times from a single source—American News’s Facebook page—in its first six hours on the web. The post garnered 80,000 likes in a half of a day.
Nothing about the post is true, but that didn’t seem to matter to American News, which has 5.5 million followers and an account verified by an employee at Facebook.
American News, which on Tuesday posted stories like “Michelle Obama Exposed for the Pervert She Really Is” (the website calls her “Moochelle” in its posts), “‘The View’ Is About to Get Shut Down,” and “BREAKING: Hillary Clinton to Be Indicted… Your Prayers Have Been Answered,” has 700,000 more subscribers than The Washington Post on Facebook.
None of those stories are true.
But American News is nowhere near the lone source behind the intentionally fake news that took over Facebook in the last 48 hours.
According to Trendolizer, a variation on EndTheFed’s story “Since Donald Trump Won the Presidency… Ford Shifts Truck Production from Mexico to Ohio” trended three times over the last 24 hours.
Ford shifted its truck production from Mexico to Ohio in August 2015, not this week, and the move had nothing to do with Trump. That didn’t seem to matter for EndTheFed, whose post was shared 15,000 times, or ViralLiberty.com, whose nearly verbatim post trended later on Monday.
By the time DonaldTrumpNews.co’s headline “BREAKING: Since Donald Trump Won The Presidency Ford Shifts Truck Production From Mexico To Ohio” racked up 20,600 shares, there was a startling development in the real world.
Ford CEO Mark Fields announced his company was doing the opposite of the viral reports on Facebook. “Ford Motor Co. is moving ahead with plans to shift production of small cars to Mexico from Michigan,” Reuters reporter Alexandria Sage wrote at 5 p.m. Tuesday.
Current President Barack Obama also had a busy day in the fake news world, when his “lawyers” were forced to “officially admit [his] birth certificate is fake,” according to the Facebook pages Conservative Country and The American People News, whose stories have pushed past 6,000 shares and 50,000 likes since Monday. The story is a total fabrication.
In Facebook’s universe, “3 million illegal aliens” are also “Under Investigation for Voting… After Obama Told Them It Was OK.” The group 100 Percent FED Up netted more than 18,000 shares in the last 48 hours with that headline. Obama, for what it’s worth, did not tell undocumented immigrants to vote, and 3 million people are not under investigation.
Of course, this has no effect on the pop-up websites—often one-person operations—that can earn up to $3,000 a day by appealing to the emotions of Americans on Facebook with quasi-official-looking “news,” but without any of the facts.
As BuzzFeed News reported days before the election, more than 100 pro-Trump sites were created by Macedonian teenagers attempting to skirt labor laws and earn a paycheck on the web by appeasing an easy-to-dupe American electorate.
BuzzFeed then reported this Monday that “renegade Facebook employees” have formed a task force to challenge their CEO on his public position that fake news poses no problem to the company’s users.
“It’s not a crazy idea. What’s crazy is for him to come out and dismiss it like that, when he knows, and those of us at the company know, that fake news ran wild on our platform during the entire campaign season,” one anonymous Facebook staffer told BuzzFeed.
By the end of the day Tuesday, even fake-news sites had become more self-aware than Zuckerberg.
A trending story headlined “BREAKING: Hillary Clinton Breaks Silence—Is Preparing to Fight for the White House!” on RealtimePolitics.com begins like this:
“One of the top reasons Democrats feel Hillary lost, is due to the vast amount of fake news sites that cram Facebook with their sensationalistic headlines, such as ‘Hillary Will Be Indicted By The FBI—Your Prayers Have Been Answered!’” the post reads. “Now, the Clinton team plans to fight back.”
The Clinton team does not plan to fight back. And neither, for now, does Mark Zuckerberg.