Nowadays, we are witnessing fake news being spread all over the world. There are lots of discussions everywhere. We are routinely coming across many news items which later turn out to be fake. And social media is a major player here, for its role in spreading rumours, hatred and baseless news, which is causing social unrest and havoc among people.
As we all know, initially, Facebook was meant to help people connect and communicate with each other over the internet. Its worldwide presence and acceptance by the public is proof of its utility. There is no doubt that Facebook has brought the whole world to our fingertips. But recently, Facebook has been heavily criticised for sharing user data and fake accounts. In this article, I will try to investigate whether Facebook pages are contributing to the spread of fake news.
There is this Facebook page called “Just A Thought To Rethink”. Its purpose is to share and spread information, knowledge and take opinion polls in the interest of the Facebook users who like and follow the page. The purpose of this page is to create awareness by sharing posts, articles and pictures about various aspects related to society, politics, environment, culture, etc. It has had its presence on Facebook for just over a month.
Last week, “Just a Thought to Rethink” had a post titled “Fake News -Misinformation is worse than no information”, which highlighted the concerns of fake news. Since the page was new and there weren’t many followers, the post couldn’t reach many people. Consequently, the post received a low number of likes and only a very limited number of users read it. Considering the seriousness of the issue, the page admin decided to avail Facebook’s ‘Boost Post’ service (a paid service) and try to reach more people – thereby, also testing the results of this promotional service for which he was getting regular notifications from Facebook.
To clarify what the Boost Post facility is all about (especially for those who have an FB account but not a page) – Facebook has provided this facility to all the admins who have created and are managing a page/pages on Facebook. Whenever you post any content on the page, Facebook notifies you regularly to boost your post to reach more users.
There is another facility – the Promote Page facility – which allows your page to be advertised on the FB accounts of the target audience/viewers, which you can select before availing the service. There are various day-based packages for both the services which you can choose as per your budget.
If you wish to avail the Boost Post service, Facebook will promote and help your post reach a larger audience, only for the days for which you have made a payment. Basically, this is a business model created to promote products and services after creating a page for your company. Here, you can easily advertise the products and services of your company by selecting the targeted customers who are readily available on Facebook.
In this case, the admin had availed the 2-day Boost Post service for the article mentioned above by paying ₹120. When the service was delivered and initiated by Facebook, within minutes, the post’s outreach and the number of like it received increased exponentially. Amazingly, the post, which didn’t get many likes even from its own followers, had become trending (for the admin only, that is) within hours. You can see the final results of the paid service, through which the post reached up to 659 Facebook users out of the total of 697 users targeted. It was liked by 297 users – and this was quite remarkable!
Evidently, such advertisement and promotion is really a good business idea developed by Facebook to earn money and help its users promote their products and services to targeted customers only, using Facebook pages. But this marketing tool has serious flaws – and many questions need to be asked here.
The questions concern the utility of this promotion tool, how it actually works and whether Facebook subcontracts promotional activities and pays to the account holders (even those with fake ones) for the same facilities. People also need to know what measures Facebook has taken to curb the issue of fake accounts, and whether FB data is secure, even with stringent controls.
Facebook has recently revealed that there are more than 200 million fake accounts and pages which are operational on their platform. And looking at the way how Facebook pages get promoted, it can be said, with reasonable certainty, that it is one of the biggest sources of fake news.
Twiplomacy – a social media brand that observes ‘digital diplomacy’ – shared the “World Leaders on Facebook” study released by Burson Cohn & Wolfe. It says that the Indian PM is the most ‘liked’ leader on Facebook, which should ideally be a proud moment for Indians. But here, the 200 million fake accounts (to which India contributes significantly) also need to be factored in. Now whether we actually believe whether these accounts had a role to play or not, we can’t deny the possibility of the ‘fan base’ being manipulated by fake users.
Also, it is clearly evident from the above case that these fake account holders can blindly promote their posts by availing the paid services from Facebook. Also, there may be a monetary angle involved here. If there was no monetary benefit to be made from promoting these pages and posts, why would these people waste their time and money? In my opinion, this can’t be the case. We have witnessed many politically-motivated pages who have been trying to run a negative propaganda, create unrest among the people and instill fear. And if the pages created intentionally to spread rumours are availing promotional services from Facebook, then it should be very embarrassing for Facebook. They are digging their own well and causing big troubles for the society.
Many peoples and organisations are working against fake news by creating awareness among the masses. They promote professional journalism and many more such initiatives. The masses need to contribute to this fight too, because the current measures to counter this menace may prove to be insufficient in the long run, due to the wide outreach of technology and the exponentially-rising unethical ways through which the audience is being manipulated.
The models used by Facebook to promote pages and posts can be really handy for actual business organisations as a means of advertisement. However, in my opinion, the same facility should be altered/modified in such a way that they are used only by authentic sellers of goods and services. I believe people having original Facebook Accounts should not be allowed to create a public page. Facebook is smart enough to find out ways to overcome such problems. It will definitely come up with a concrete plan to curb fake accounts.
The author can be found at email@example.com.