Fake News on Facebook? In Foreign Elections, That’s Not New.
HONG KONG — Facebook rumors force a well-known politician to publish proof of his heritage. Fake images show a prominent female leader in a hangman’s noose. A politician’s aide decries violent crime with a Facebook photo of a girl’s corpse — an image that turns out to come from another country.
Another day on social media for Barack Obama, Hillary Clinton and Donald J. Trump? Think again.
这又是贝拉克·奥巴马、希拉里·克林顿(Hillary Clinton)和唐纳德·J·特朗普(Donald J. Trump)在社交网络上的遭遇？不见得。
Those incidents took place in Indonesia and the Philippines, where social media’s outsize place in politics is widely acknowledged, even as that role is coming under sharper criticism in the United States.
Well before last week’s American election threw Facebook’s status as a digital-era news source into the spotlight, leaders, advocacy groups and minorities worldwide have contended with an onslaught of online misinformation and abuse that have had real-world political repercussions. And for years, the social network did little to clamp down on the false news.
Now Facebook, Google and others have begun to take steps to curb the trend, but some outside the United States say the move is too late.
“They should have done this way earlier,” said Richard Heydarian, a political analyst in the Philippines, one of Facebook’s fastest-growing markets. “We already saw the warning signs of this years ago.”
On Thursday, President Obama, speaking in Berlin and standing alongside Chancellor Angela Merkel, criticized Facebook and other social media for disseminating fake news. He became so impassioned that at one point he lost track of the question he was answering.
“If everything seems to be the same and no distinctions are made, then we won’t know what to protect,” Mr. Obama said.
The impact of Facebook and other social media platforms on international elections is difficult to quantify. But Facebook’s global reach — roughly a quarter of the world’s population now has an account — is difficult to deny, political experts and academics say.
Some governments are pushing back, sometimes with undemocratic consequences. Ms. Merkel has said she is considering plans to force social networks to make public how they rank news online. Some African countries have banned the use of Facebook, WhatsApp and Twitter before elections. Indonesia’s government has closed sites that it says promote fake news, though experts say some portals were also targeted for political reasons.
Facebook said on Thursday that the social network was a place for people to stay informed and that what people saw in their news feed was overwhelmingly authentic. The Silicon Valley company previously denied that it failed to deal with misinformation and said it continues to monitor the social network so that it meets existing standards.
“I think the idea that fake news on Facebook, which is a very small amount of the content, influenced the election in any way — I think is a pretty crazy idea,” Mark Zuckerberg, the company’s chief executive, told a tech conference days after the American presidential election. “Voters make decisions based on their lived experience.”
Facebook’s power is often stronger overseas than it is in the United States. In many developing countries with populations new to both democracy and social media, experts said, fake stories can be more widely believed. And in some of these countries, Facebook even offers free smartphone data connections to basic public online services, some news sites and Facebook itself — but limits access to broader sources that could help debunk fake news.
One such place is the Philippines, where a spokesman for its populist president, Rodrigo Duterte, shared on Facebook an image of a corpse of a young girl believed to have been raped and killed by a drug dealer. Fact checkers later revealed that the photo had come from Brazil. Despite the debunking, proponents of Mr. Duterte’s bloody crackdown on reported drug dealers and addicts still cite the image in his defense, according to political analysts.
Tens of thousands of Philippine Facebook users also recently shared a story claiming that NASA had voted Mr. Duterte “the best president in the solar system.” While many commenters on the Facebook post took it as a joke, some appeared to take it seriously. And an image of Leila de Lima, a local lawmaker and a critic of Mr. Duterte, depicted her facing a hangman’s noose.
最近，菲律宾数万名Facebook用户还分享了一则声称美国航空航天局(NASA)评选杜特地为“太阳系最杰出的总统”的新闻。尽管在Facebook上的这篇帖子下面留言的很多人都把它当做笑话，但一些人似乎当真了。此外，在一张图片中，菲律宾议员、对杜特地持批评意见的莱拉·德利马(Leila de Lima)被人套上了绞索。
“Facebook hasn’t led to empowerment of the average citizen, but empowerment of professional propagandists, fringe elements and conspiracy theorists,” said Mr. Heydarian, the Philippines political analyst. “Voices that were lurking in the shadows are now at the center of the public discourse.”
In Indonesia, where Facebook is so popular that some people confuse it with the broader internet, the service has considerable sway.
When Joko Widodo, Indonesia’s president, was running for office in 2014, he was accused through social media of being a Chinese Christian and a communist — severe criticism in the deeply Islamic country. The Indonesian politician released his marriage certificate to prove he wasn’t Chinese and made a pilgrimage to Mecca just before voting.
“The fake news had a very big impact in our campaign,” said Tubagus Ramadhan, who helped Mr. Widodo run his social media campaign during the election.
Even in long-established democracies like Germany, Spain and Italy, false news reports and hate speech on social media have whipped up grass-roots populist movements, which have often targeted the recent influx of Middle Eastern refugees, to garner wider electoral support.
Now, many European politicians are questioning what role social media has had in deciding what voters can and cannot see. They also have forced social networks like Facebook, Twitter and Google to sign up for voluntary — so far — standards to police hate speech online.
In Germany, Ms. Merkel’s push to require American social network companies to publish how they rank news is intended to give voters greater control over what they read online.
“Algorithms must be more transparent,” Ms. Merkel has said, “so that interested citizens are also aware of what actually happens with their own media behavior and that of others.”