Fake news articles containing false information about politicians like President Trump and House Speaker Nancy Pelosi reached millions of Facebook users this year in spite of a new initiative that warned users of the untrue claims before they shared the link.
A new investigation from Avaaz says the U.S. has been flooded with over 158 million views of political fake news ahead of the 2020 elections. They focused on collecting the most viral Facebook posts from Jan. 1 to Oct. 31, 2019, and analyzed the top 100 fake news stories about U.S. politics still on the platform, including only examples that were fact-checked by reputable organizations.
The disinformation targets politicians across the spectrum. Avaaz estimates over 29 million people viewed a post claiming Trump’s grandfather was a pimp and tax evader and his father was a member of the Ku Klux Klan. It estimates over 24.6 million people viewed a post saying Pelosi diverted Social Security money for the impeachment inquiry. Again, those articles were fact-checked and shown to be untrue. Still, they were shared and viewed millions of times.
This reporter attempted to share the top-viewed fake news article to a personal Facebook page. Sure enough, a popup window announced there was false or misleading information contained in the piece, but it was easily bypassed by pressing “share anyway.”
In May, a Facebook spokesperson talked to TheWrap about an altered video of Pelosi that was circulating the site at the time: “Once the video was fact checked as false, we dramatically reduced its distribution. Speed is critical to this system, and we continue to improve our response. People who see the video in feed, try to share it from feed, or already shared it are alerted that it’s false.”
Thursday, a spokesperson told TheWrap, “Multiple independent studies have found that we’ve cut the amount of fake news on Facebook by more than half since the 2016 election. That still means plenty of people see fake news, which is why we now have more visible warning labels flagging this type of content, and prominent notifications when someone tries to share it or already has.”
When it was announced in 2018, the fact-checking was just the latest attempt by Facebook to curb misinformation campaigns ahead of the 2018 U.S. midterm elections. Facebook was skewered by critics for its inability to weed out Kremlin-funded fake news during the 2016 presidential race. The company shared thousands of fake ads with Congress, many of which included manipulated pictures of President Obama, Hillary Clinton and Trump.