Google and Facebook fake news scandal during US election also entangled Pope Francis

(Image: http://hoaxes.org/photo_database/viral_images)

One of the latest stars named in the fake news scandal for stories spreading on social media is Pope Francis who got entangled during the U.S. presidential election stirring a strong debate on the role of the likes of Faebook and Google.

A webpage had claimed the pontiff backed U.S. president designate Donald Trump being widely shared and it appeared on millions of people's news feeds despite it being false, premier.com reports.

The only comment Francis had made during the U.S. election was to say that building walls is not Christian, which many people construed to be a reference to Trump's plan to build a border wall between the United States and Mexico.

The fake news story was not taken down or flagged as false by either Google or Facebook and even contained a hoax quote from the Pope.

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"I have been hesitant to offer any kind of support for either candidate in the U.S. presidential election but I now feel that to not voice my concern would be a dereliction of my duty as the Holy See," Pope Francis was quoted as having said.

Crux News reported that Trump's stunning win was due to a plethora of factors including a poor economy, and the anger of those who felt "left behind".

"But front and center were the feelings of religious voters - and above all their fears of a Democrat candidate perceived as against them," the Catholic publication said.

It noted that in 2016, most of the polls were wrong and polls predicting that Hillary Clinton would run away with the Catholic vote proved more wishful than accurate.

In the run-up to the election, only the IBD-TIPP poll consistently pointed to a Trump win among Catholics, as CRUX had noted and almost all the others suggested a significant margin of victory for Clinton.

After voting is over, however, preliminary results indicated Trump decisively won a majority of those self-identifying as Catholics, by 52 to 45 percent.

By contrast, President Barack Obama won Catholics narrowly, by a margin of 50 to 48 percent, in 2012.

GOOGLE AND FACEBOOK 'TO FIGHT FAKE NEWS'

Meanwhile, Google and Facebook have announced plans to fight the spread of fake news by placing tighter restrictions on how such sites make money from advertising.

Their announcement followed criticism of social media over the role it played in the U.S. presidential election, and the alleged spread of false information that may have influenced some voters.

Facebook founder and CEO Mark Zuckerberg denied claims that the social network played any role in influencing the election result, claiming that "99 percent" of the content on Facebook was authentic.

Foreign Policy ran a story Nov. 15 entitled "Can Facebook - and the Republic - Solve the Fake News Problem?"

Elias Groll wrote in FP, "This election season, Facebook turned into a cesspool of false news. A fake story about Pope Francis endorsing Donald Trump spread like wildfire.

"An article purportedly describing how an FBI agent investigating Hillary Clinton's email server had killed his wife and shot himself flew across the platform. Neither story was true - and now the social media giant faces an outcry that it effectively aided and abetted Donald Trump's electoral victory last week."

He noted that Zuckerberg has called the notion "crazy," but said he's clearly sensitive to the criticism at a time when nearly half of Americans consume news through Facebook.

"What's more, the entire business rationale of the social media site is to generate advertising revenue - dollars predicated on the notion that what Facebook tells its users, they take to the bank."

In an op-ed in the New York Times Nov. 15 Zeynep Tufekci, an associate professor at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill accused Zuckerberg of being in denial.

She noted how Trump's supporters were no doubt heartened in September, when, according to an article shared nearly a million times on Facebook, the candidate received an endorsement from Pope Francis.

Their opinions on Clinton may have soured even further after reading a Denver Guardian article that also spread widely on Facebook, which reported days before the election that an F.B.I. agent suspected of involvement in leaking Clinton's emails was found dead in an apparent murder-suicide.

MADE-UP NEWS

The only problem with those articles: They were totally fake.

"The Pope, a vociferous advocate for refugees, never endorsed anyone. The Denver Guardian doesn't exist," Tufekci observed.

Still, thanks to Facebook, both of these articles were seen by potentially millions of people and despite corrections circulated on the social network, they barely registered compared with the reach of the original fabrications.

Tufekci wrote, "The problem with Facebook's influence on political discourse is not limited to the dissemination of fake news.

"It's also about echo chambers. The company's algorithm chooses which updates appear higher up in users' newsfeeds and which are buried.

"Humans already tend to cluster among like-minded people and seek news that confirms their biases. Facebook's research shows that the company's algorithm encourages this by somewhat prioritizing updates that users find comforting."

Fake news sites that feed false, inflammatory information to a gullible public have risen as means to make easy money, Quartz reports.

It cites a BuzzFeed investigation that traced 140 websites dedicated to U.S. politics to a small Macedonian town called Veles with a population of 45,000, where young men pumped out stories "aggregated, or completely plagiarized, from fringe and right-wing sites in the U.S."

As it is cheap to register a domain, and set@an up shop overseas, junk sites like worldpoliticus.com, TrumpVision365.com, and USConservativeToday.com can be easily created and let loose on social media networks, where the hits can be turned into revenue.

Google was sucked into this type of news. Quartz said recent weeks have seen fake articles rise to the top of Google's sought after rankings, with obscure websites promoting the (false) idea that Trump is leading in the popular vote placing above reputable news organizations in searches.

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