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Facebook reportedly had a fake news fix, but was too afraid to use it

Sources claim an ‘internal culture of fear’ following the Trending Topics debacle

Mark Zuckerberg

A new report says Facebook shelved an update that would have suppressed fake news from going viral on the social network. According to Gizmodo, high-ranking Facebook executives were briefed on an update that identified fake news and hoaxes, but the tool was never released in fears of “upsetting conservatives.”

The tool, which heavily affected right-wing media, was reportedly killed following revelations that the company’s human-curated Trending Topics team often favored liberal topics. Facebook then fired the team in place of an algorithm, which instead regularly surfaced fake news onto Trending Topics. It also updated the news feed to favor stories about friends and family over clickbait headlines and spam.

Still, Zuckerberg maintains that “99 percent of what people see [on Facebook] is authentic.” The CEO claimed that fake news worked both ways — with inaccurate stories shared on both Donald Trump and Hillary Clinton — though a report earlier this year cites that right-wing media published misleading information 38 percent of the time compared to left-wing media’s 20 percent.

As Zuckerberg remains dismissive, some of his “top executives” were asking each other whether Facebook had unduly affected the election, The New York Times reports. Facebook employees are reportedly “aware” of the social network’s influence and role in media with its content distribution powers. The Trending Topics episode paralyzed Facebook’s willingness to make any serious changes to its products that might compromise the perception of its objectivity,” employees told the Times.

We’ve contacted Facebook for comment and will update if we hear back. In the Gizmodo report, Facebook denied withholding updates based on “potential impact with any one political party.”

Update November 14, 12:52PM ET:

Facebook has responded with the same statement given to Gizmodo. The full text is below:

The article’s allegation is not true. We did not build and withhold any News Feed changes based on their potential impact on any one political party. We always work to make News Feed more meaningful and informative, and that includes examining the quality and accuracy of items shared, such as clickbait, spam and hoaxes. Mark himself said “I want to do everything I can to make sure our teams uphold the integrity of our products.” This includes continuously review updates to make sure we are not exhibiting unconscious bias.