Europeans are less likely to share fake news. Here's why.

May 11, 2017

If you picked up a newspaper in the UK on Monday, you might have encountered an unusual advertisement offering tips on how to spot “false news.”

Facebook published the full-page ads in major newspapers — including The Guardian and The Times of London — ahead of the country’s general elections next month. Last month, it published the same ads in Germany and France, ahead of elections in those countries.

“People want to see accurate information on Facebook and so do we. That is why we are doing everything we can to tackle the problem of false news,” Simon Milner, Facebook’s director of policy for the UK, said in a statement.

Research indicates that internet users in some European countries are less likely than Americans to share fake news online. Still, Facebook and other social media companies have been facing mounting pressure from European leaders to address fake news, as well as other hateful, racist and violent posts. 

“I think Europe has within living memory much more understanding of the consequences of letting hateful propaganda spread,” said Zeynep Tufekci, an associate professor at the University of North Carolina who studies the effects of technology on politics and society. “They lived through World War I and World War II, and they have a deeper visceral reaction to the consequences of letting hate speech, incitement to violence, misinformation, propaganda — the whole range of things that we see online today — going unchecked.”

In addition to the advertisements, Facebook announced it has deleted “tens of thousands” of fake Facebook accounts and said that it would hire 3,000 employees worldwide to review violent or hateful content.

Tufekci says the company could do more to address the spread of fake news and other content on its site, including opening up its data to independent researchers and an ethics board. 

"I’m not saying they’re gonna catch every last thing,” Tufekci said. “I’m not saying that user behavior is not part of it. I’m not saying that polarization is not a big part of the story. ... But I am saying that they have a role to play that could be a lot more constructive than taking ads and telling us to be better.”

Facebook did not immediately respond to request for comment. 


From PRI's The World ©2017 PRI