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From Nieman Reports: The powers and perils of news personalization
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Nov. 18, 2016, 11:08 a.m.
LINK: www.newyorker.com  ➚   |   Posted by: Joseph Lichterman   |   November 18, 2016

President-elect Donald Trump tweeted Thursday night that he had convinced Ford to not close a factory in Kentucky. “I worked hard with Bill Ford to keep the Lincoln plant in Kentucky,” Trump tweeted. “I owed it to the great State of Kentucky for their confidence in me!”

There was just one problem: The automaker wasn’t planning on closing the factory. (It was going to move production of the Lincoln MKC SUV to Mexico, but increase production of the Ford Escape, which is made in the same facility.)

Regardless of Ford’s plans, the incident is just another illustration of how social media has been utilized to spread false information.

It’s an issue even President Barack Obama has been thinking about. He addressed the issue in a press conference in Germany this week.

Obama also, according to a profile by New Yorker editor David Remnick, had “talked almost obsessively” about a recent BuzzFeed story about how teens in Macedonia were creating pro-Trump websites that peddled fake stories.

Facebook and sites like these have resulted in an environment where “everything is true and nothing is true,” Obama said:

“An explanation of climate change from a Nobel Prize-winning physicist looks exactly the same on your Facebook page as the denial of climate change by somebody on the Koch brothers’ payroll. And the capacity to disseminate misinformation, wild conspiracy theories, to paint the opposition in wildly negative light without any rebuttal—that has accelerated in ways that much more sharply polarize the electorate and make it very difficult to have a common conversation.”

That marked a decisive change from previous political eras, he maintained. “Ideally, in a democracy, everybody would agree that climate change is the consequence of man-made behavior, because that’s what ninety-nine per cent of scientists tell us,” he said. “And then we would have a debate about how to fix it. That’s how, in the seventies, eighties, and nineties, you had Republicans supporting the Clean Air Act and you had a market-based fix for acid rain rather than a command-and-control approach. So you’d argue about means, but there was a baseline of facts that we could all work off of. And now we just don’t have that.”

Even members of Trump’s incoming administration have shared these stories.

For his part, Facebook’s Mark Zuckerberg said hoaxes or fake news account for less than 1 percent of what people see in their News Feeds. Still, the issue is not going away, and it appears that journalists and news consumers will continue to find ways to address the spread of false narratives on platforms such as Facebook and Google.

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