PALO ALTO (CBS SF) — A move by activist investors in Facebook to require greater transparency on how the social media company is battling fake news on the site has been blocked by CEO Mark Zuckerberg.
The shareholders had proposed requiring the social media company’s board to publish an annual report on how the company manages fake news posts, along with detailing the affect of those policies. The proposal was rejected during the annual shareholder meeting Thursday, with Zuckerberg controlling more than 50 percent of the shareholder vote.
Natasha Lamb, managing partner at investment firm Arjuna Capital, said the proposal would have required Facebook to report on, “public policy issues associated with managing fake news and associated hate speech” including how it impacts the democratic process, free speech, and a cohesive society.
Lamb specified that by “fake news” she is referring to content that “is posted and disseminated with the intent to mislead, not the mainstream media, which the president refers to as fake news.”
The proposal came as a result of shareholder concern that Facebook may not have a systematic or sufficient approach to combating the dissemination of misinformation, fake news and hate speech on its platform.
Lamb, speaking on behalf of the activist investors, argued that if fake news continues to be disseminated on the platform, it could hurt Facebook’s business by losing users’ trust, and – perhaps more importantly – misinform the public and thereby harm the democratic process.
She warned that Facebook’s efforts to combat this type of misinformation may be too little, too late and that a lack of self-regulation by the company could invite government regulation.
But Zuckerberg said Thursday that the company is already taking measures to stop false news.
He stressed that most of the creators of false news aren’t doing it for ideological reasons, but are spammers who try to come up with the most outrageous thing they can, post a link to it and then show ads on the landing page to make money.
“So, we have focused a lot on disrupting the economics for these folks,” Zuckerberg said. “If we can make it so it’s no longer profitable for them to do this, then they’ll stop.”
Zuckerberg said Facebook is cutting down on false news on the platform by barring spammers from using their ad systems and monetization tools. He noted that flagged material is also going through fact-checkers now, and if deemed necessary, flagged as disputed material in order to alert the reader or viewer of possible misinformation.
But Lamb said that Zuckerberg had the power to pass the resolution and bring long-term transparency to how the company plans to combat fake news, while protecting free speech on Facebook – but chose not to do so.
Lamb said her firm is continuing to communicate with Facebook about how it can be more transparent regarding its policies and practices surrounding fake news and the societal impact of those policies.
Next week, shareholders of Google’s parent company, Alphabet, will vote on a similar resolution to evaluate the impact that fabricated content, and the company’s subsequent policies and practices, is having on their business.
By Hannah Albarazi – Follow her on Twitter: @hannahalbarazi.