Mark Zuckerberg dismissed critics who have blamed hoaxes and false news stories that spread across Facebook as somehow contributing to Donald Trump’s election as the 45th president of the U.S.
“Personally I think the idea that fake news on Facebook, of which it’s a very small amount of the content, influenced the election in any way is a pretty crazy idea,” said Zuckerberg, speaking Thursday night at the Techonomy conference in Half Moon Bay, Calif.
Facebook, which has 1.79 billion monthly users worldwide, is in a powerful position as a media company (even though Zuckberberg keeps insisting that it’s a tech platform, not a media company). About 44% of U.S. adults get their news from Facebook — and 66% of U.S. Facebook users consume news on the social-media platform, per a Pew Research Center study in May.
Fake news disseminated on Facebook leading up to the election included a story insinuating that Hillary Clinton was involved in the suicide of an FBI agent investigating WikiLeaks emails, as well as hoaxes claiming that Clinton campaign chairman John Podesta was a satanist, that the Clintons bought a $200 million Maldives estate and that Hillary Clinton bought $137 million worth of illegal guns and ammunition.
To Zuckerberg, “there is a certain profound lack of empathy in asserting that the only reason someone could have voted the way they did is because they saw some fake news.”
“If you believe that,” he said, “I don’t think you have internalized the message that Trump supporters are trying to send in this election.”
Facebook has taken some steps to try to improve the quality of news users see in their News Feed. In August, it announced a new policy to begin penalizing stories with “clickbait” headlines.
Earlier this year the social giant was accused of political bias in its Trending Topics section to downgrade conservative-leaning stories. In response, Zuckerberg and other Facebook execs met with conservative commentators to discuss the issue. Facebook subsequently laid off the team of freelancers that managed Trends Topics, and replaced them with an algorithm-based automated system.
But despite all of Facebook’s efforts, fake news stories have continued to pop up on the site, including a hoax that Fox News was going to fire Megyn Kelly for backing Clinton.
Zuckerberg said on Thursday that the information people get through social media platforms like Facebook today is “inherently more diverse” than what Americans received decades ago when the major media outlets were three TV broadcasters and newspapers. That’s a good thing, he suggested — but the unfiltered torrent of news on the internet, real or made up, also makes it more difficult for people to figure out what’s true.
While Silicon Valley billionaire and Facebook board member Peter Thiel openly advocated for Trump — and spoke at the GOP convention this summer — other Facebook execs supported Clinton.
Zuckerberg earlier this year appeared to criticize Trump’s immigration and trade policies, saying in his keynote at the company’s F8 developers conference, “Instead of building walls, we can build bridges.” In response, a rep for Trump called Zuckerberg “self-righteous” and out of touch.
COO Sheryl Sandberg strongly endorsed Clinton’s bid to become the first woman president of the U.S., citing what such a historic event would mean for her children as well as the country’s future.
On Thursday, shares of Facebook and other tech heavyweights dropped despite a broader rally in the markets that pushed the Dow Jones Industrial Average up 1.17%. Facebook’s stock closed down 1.9%, as investors digested the potential for the Trump administration’s tech, immigration and trade policies to be negatives for Silicon Valley companies.
Zuckerberg, in a post on Wednesday evening on the social site, didn’t address how a Trump presidency might affect his company. Instead, he wrote optimistically about the future for his 11-month-old daughter, Max. “Holding Max, I thought about all the work ahead of us to create the world we want for our children,” Zuckerberg wrote in the post, which he tagged with “feeling hopeful.”