Facebook promoted conspiracy theories surrounding Amtrak crash

Come ON, Facebook.

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Swapna Krishna
February 1st, 2018
In this article: facebook, fakenews, gear, security
Justin Ide/Crozet Volunteer Fire Department/Handout via Reuters
Justin Ide/Crozet Volunteer Fire Department/Handout via Reuters

On Wednesday, a train carrying House Republicans collided with a truck. The accident left one person dead and another injured. It's a tragedy, to be sure, and promoting misinformation around the event is incredibly unhelpful. Which is why it's so frustrating that Facebook is apparently up to its old tricks; the social network promoted stories in the "People are Saying" section of "Trending News" that were full of conspiracy theories and misinformation, including that Hillary Clinton ordered the crash. The Daily Beast first reported on the issue.

A Facebook spokesperson told Engadget, "Trending includes a separate section of people's individual posts related to the news event; it's essentially a comments section. We built this as a way for you to easily see what others are saying around a topic. The type of stuff we were seeing yesterday is a bad experience and we're going to work to fix the product." It's great that Facebook recognizes there's an issue and will work to correct it. The problem, of course, is haven't they been doing that for the last couple of years?

The fact is this really should not be happening anymore. Sure, a few stories will fall through the cracks -- it's a big platform after all -- but Facebook should have a better handle on the problem by now. Trending news is not a comments section. Facebook comments are a comments section.

That's not to say solving the fake news problem is easy or simple. The fight is constant, and some have posited that it's a war that is, in fact, unwinnable. Google took steps earlier this week to clean fake news out of its search "snippets" and Facebook has revamped its News Feed to focus less on articles and more on friend and family updates (though this might actually exacerbate the problem). But if people keep themselves informed about world events through Facebook, and there is misinformation in the Trending News section, that's a huge problem. And it's not clear if Facebook is ever going to fix it.

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