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Former Facebook Exec Says Government Action on Fake News Is a Real Possibility

Mathew Ingram

A former senior executive at Facebook suggested on Tuesday that the company must do more to solve the problem of “fake news” and clickbait being distributed through the service, and that if it doesn’t, government regulators may get involved.

Adam D’Angelo, a former chief technology officer at Facebook and now CEO of question-and-answer site Quora, made the comments at an invitation-only symposium in New York for members of The Information, a subscription-based technology news service co-founded by former Wall Street Journal reporter Jessica Lessin.

“You need to make readers of the platforms more aware of the true source of their news,” D'Angelo told attendees at the summit, according to a report by The Information. “There's not enough information about what source you're going to. Government regulation at some point is a real option.”

D’Angelo said that media companies have a huge incentive to create stories that are shocking because that kind of content is widely shared on Facebook and other news-distribution platforms such as Twitter.

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The Quora CEO said that one option for Facebook and Twitter is to structure their services so that media outlets producing high-quality content will get more distribution and reach, rather than those producing low-quality clickbait or fake news.

Ironically, D’Angelo said in a comment on The Information’s story about his remarks that the original headline of the post--”Quora's CEO Says Regulators Could Clamp Down on Facebook, Twitter”--mischaracterized what he said. The question, he countered, was something along the lines of, “What is the solution to fake news and clickbait?”

“I said there were many possible solutions, including platforms changing what they prioritize in distribution, increasing awareness of sources and even government regulation,” D’Angelo wrote. “I was not making any kind of prediction about whether regulators would go after Facebook and Twitter, or a judgment about whether that would be a good solution.”

Adam Mosseri, the Facebook vice president in charge of the news feed, told the Information summit that the company is taking a number of steps to address the problem. The social network has formed a partnership with fact-checking organizations, including Snopes and Politifact, and has also released a series of tips to help readers detect fake news.

Some of the ways in which Facebook is structured don’t help, however. A number of observers noted that while Facebook advises users to check the URL of the story, it also makes it difficult to do this by hiding or obscuring the address, because it wants to keep users on the platform.

In a recent 6,000-word manifesto he published on Facebook, Mark Zuckerberg said that Facebook is concerned about the quality of information that users get on the social network, and that he is committed to working to solve that problem. “We know there is misinformation and even outright hoax content on Facebook, and we take this very seriously,” he said.

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