Does Facebook Generate Over Half of Its Ad Revenue From Fake News?

Fake news has been in the news. But one important question about fake news has not yet been answered: How much revenue would Facebook sacrifice if it purged fake news from its site?

Sadly, I can’t provide a reliable figure — but a BuzzFeed News analysis of top fake news traffic before the election suggests that the proportion of time that users spent on fake — as opposed to real news — on Facebook was considerable.

In a November 26 interview, Harvard Business School professor Ben Edelman suggested that more data is needed to come up with an accurate estimate of the proportion of Facebook’s ad revenue attributable to fake news.

However, if the amount of revenue attributable to fake news is significant, I can see why Mark Zuckerberg does not want to rid Facebook of fake news — which the Chrome Extension B.S. Detector developed by web designer Daniel Sieradski could flag with a red banner that reads “this website is considered a questionable source,” according to Vocativ.

A Facebook spokesman told BuzzFeed News that the top stories don’t reflect overall engagement on the platform. According to the spokesman, “There is a long tail of stories on Facebook. It may seem like the top stories get a lot of traction, but they represent a tiny fraction of the total.”

I have contacted Facebook for comment on my estimate and will update the post should I receive a reply.

Before getting into that, let’s define fake news and discuss why people seem to like it so much. Fake news is easy to define — it’s a story dressed up as news that is based on false information.

As the New York Times pointed out, a great example is the fake news based on a tweet of a November 9 photograph of a bus in Austin, Tex. that supposedly had transported paid protestors of the recent election outcome. That tweet was shared 350,000 times on Facebook – and an article based on the November 11 correction – noting that the bus was being used for a Tableau Software business conference – was shared a paltry 3,500 times.

Fake news works — in the sense of generating lots of shares — because of confirmation bias — the irrational tendency of people to embrace information that reinforces their beliefs and to reject information that challenges them.

United States | Technology, Facebook, False News | 2016-11-28 |