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Facebook wants to sway your purchases — but not your politics

Matt Kapko | Nov. 16, 2016
Mark Zuckerberg is under pressure to explain Facebook's role in the 2016 presidential election. The CEO downplayed the impact on its users, but if Facebook's ads can influence purchase decisions, as it claims, why wouldn't the site similarly influence people's politics?

Facebook introduced new controls to flag fake news and admits there is more it can do to this end, but "identifying the truth is complicated," Zuckerberg wrote. "While some hoaxes can be completely debunked, a greater amount of content, including from mainstream sources, often gets the basic idea right but some details wrong or omitted."

Facebook can't have it both ways

Facebook's reluctance to identify itself as a media company has built for the past few years, as its influence grew accordingly. However, Zuckerberg sang a different tune as late as 2013 when the company introduced a News Feed redesign that aimed to reposition Facebook as a legitimate news source. "What we're trying to do is give everyone in the world the best newspaper we can," he said at Facebook headquarters, according to a ClickZ.com report. "We think there's a really important place for a personalized newspaper like this."

One of Facebook's greatest strengths is its capability to connect people and present them with relevant content using its proprietary algorithm. Zuckerberg and his team must now defend the very veracity of the content it distributes while downplaying its significance on culture and politics.

Ultimately, Facebook is not responsible for the outcome of a presidential election — that duty goes to the electorate — but it's a stretch to suggest the company has no significant influence on its users' opinions.

 

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