Facebook is a social network. Despite its booming ad business, it is still, at its core, a place for “friends” to speak with other “friends.” During the past election, many “friends” turned it into a political forum for not-so-friendly debates. Even worse, Facebook fanned the flames by allowing the spread of fake news. Those controversies came with consequences.
According to a December poll by NBC News and The Wall Street Journal, only 15 percent of the U.S. has a “great deal” or “quite a bit” of confidence in Facebook. That figure dips to 13 percent for Twitter. Out of the 20 categories listed in the graph below, only health insurance companies fared worse.
More Americans displayed confidence in their political infrastructure than in the national media tasked with objectively reporting on government affairs. Given the partisan gridlock that hampers political progress, it’s surprising that any institution could rank lower than the government at this point. Yet, Facebook and Twitter still lag behind.
The fake news scandals surrounding the election certainly didn’t help. Social networks were lambasted for permitting the spread of misinformation. Facebook has since taken measures to combat the proliferation of false stories, including partnerships with third-party fact-checking organizations and new advertising policies that curtail the profits of shady news purveyors. Twitter’s commitment to free speech has led to some uncertainty over the proper solution, but the site did suspend a group of alt-right accounts linked to distributing hateful content.
“These platforms are central to our democracy,” John Borthwick, a New York tech investor, told the Financial Times. “Something has started to go wildly wrong.”
Sixty-two percent of U.S. adults receive news from social media, per a 2016 Pew study. Yet less than 15 percent trust Facebook and Twitter. That huge discrepancy underscores their failure at becoming reliable sources of information. If either site hopes to rebound in the eyes of the public, the new protocols need to spark healthy changes as soon as possible.