Sheryl Sandberg: “People don’t want to see hoaxes on Facebook”

Today on “Today,” Sheryl Sandberg dismissed Facebook’s role in the 2016 presidential election. Still, she didn’t want you to forget that Facebook plays a relevant part in political and social movements, just not in a way that went on to influence the results of the most divisive election in modern American history.

“People come to Facebook to share what matters to them, so the top list is always a reflection of those moments,” Sandberg told “Today” host Savannah Guthrie, discussing Facebook’s most talked about topics in 2016. “Not surprising that the U.S. election was the number one topic, because people took to Facebook to share what they care about.”

Guthrie went on to ask the Facebook COO if fake news turned out to be more of a problem than Facebook originally thought.

“Well we’ve been working on this for a long time and we’ve taken important steps, but there’s a lot more to do. We know that people don’t want to see hoaxes on Facebook and we don’t want to see hoaxes on Facebook. And so we’re working on it, because misinformation is something we take seriously and something we’re going to continue to iterate on the service.”

Sandberg’s canny switch to more benign language about “hoaxes” hearkens back to a more innocent time, one in which Facebook’s bogus viral content wasn’t yet a thriving cottage industry with deep political and cultural consequences.

Well, there have been claims that it swayed the election and we don’t think it swayed the election.

Unfortunately, in spite of Sandberg’s claims, all evidence points to the contrary: Since they usually can’t distinguish it from the truth anyway, people care deeply about misinformation. It’s no surprise that, as Buzzfeed reported, fake news outpaced the performance of real news on the platform into late 2016. In spite of all the bad press, Facebook itself clearly benefits from that proliferation. After all, it’s the stickiest content around.

When pressed again if deliberately misleading news stories “played a bigger role than [Facebook] thought, in retrospect,” Sandberg elaborated:

“Well, there have been claims that it swayed the election and we don’t think it swayed the election. But we take that responsibility really seriously and we’re looking at things like working with third parties, helping to label false news, doing the things we can do to make it clearer what’s a hoax on Facebook.”

Skipping over most other topics in Facebook’s year-end top 10, Sandberg then took the opportunity to discuss the Black Lives Matter movement, which came in at #4.

“That’s also part of what’s happening with Black Lives Matter. Black Lives Matter has been happening for years—this was the first year it broke into the top 10 on Facebook. And we think that’s partially because the power of Live helps people bear witness. We see people connecting with the big moments, connecting with the small moments, and sharing the things that matter to them.”

Notably, half of Facebook’s top global topics from its 2016 year in review were political in nature:

  1. US Elections
  2. Brazilian Politics
  3. Pokemon Go
  4. Black Lives Matter
  5. Rodrigo Duterte & Philippine Presidential Election
  6. Olympics
  7. Brexit
  8. Super Bowl
  9. David Bowie
  10. Muhammed Ali

Sandberg went on to announce Facebook Live’s top video of the year, Chewbacca Mom. Fittingly, the rightful and perhaps sole winner of 2016 did not escape the year without her own share of political controversy.