Facebook’s Bug is Ours to Fix

A version of this post appeared in the New York Times Magazine, 14 May, 2017.

Farhad Manjoo’s recent New York Times Magazine cover story, Can Facebook Fix Its Own Worst Bug?, begins with an architectural description. Facebook’s MPK20 building has been left purposefully unfinished, a subconscious reminder to its employees “that things are never quite finished, that nothing is permanent, that you should always look for a chance to take an ax to your surroundings.” It made me question which areas within our education system might be served well with a reexamination.

Manjoo goes on to lay out a brief history of the fake news pandemic and some of its proposed cures, from the engineering solutions favored by Facebook to date, to the editorial corrections called for by journalists. My reaction, unfortunately, was not represented in the piece: the solution to Facebook’s News Feed problem rests squarely upon our collective shoulders.

Fake news spreads because users lack the critical thinking and information skills to sort fact from fiction—largely because we do not explicitly teach these in any kind of consistent way. Credo conducted a survey of college students and faculty, and found that while a majority of students express confidence in their ability to evaluate sources, only 16% of faculty agree. We’ve created a fake news test so that you can evaluate your ability to identify fact versus fiction.

The infrastructure to fix what’s broken lies not in Facebook’s News Feed team, but in our educational system: when we teach people to be smart news consumers, the algorithm of any one social media app becomes secondary to the truth itself. Mark Zuckerberg speaks frequently about building connections for a better global society, but his vision loses its luster if those connections are nothing more than a conduit to spread falsehoods and exacerbate existing conflicts.

Empowering individuals amid this global web to discern fact from fiction is a stronger bulwark against viral misinformation. Tinkering with the News Feed algorithm or hiring editors to turn Facebook into a media company are tantamount to rearranging the interior design of Facebook’s MPK20 building. To enact real change, we have to focus our remodeling efforts in the halls of education.

Author: Mike Sweet

Mike Sweet is a visionary business leader who is taking education and the world of work into the future. His experience managing hundreds of employees helped him recognize the need for education to go well-beyond simple knowledge and technical skill acquisition to ensure people know what, how, and when to learn something new. This real-time learning ability is crucial for success as we are in the 4th Industrial Revolution. Prior to NimblyWise, Mike was the CEO of Credo Reference, a SaaS based research platform provider, for 10 years. His expertise in technology, culture-building and business growth strategies enabled Credo Reference to expand rapidly and build a loyal customer base of thousands of libraries. The company earned several awards for its products and services, including SIAA CODiE awards across multiple categories, Library Journal’s Best Reference Award, Choice’s Outstanding Title recognition, and a place on eContent Magazine’s Top 100 Companies. Before joining Credo Reference as CFO in 2006, Mike served as CFO and COO of CoreWeb, a software development and consulting company. He also spent seven years at Global Insight providing Fortune 500 companies with business planning solutions for market analysis and strategic planning. Mike holds an MBA from Babson and lives in Natick, Massachusetts with his wife, Jessica, and his two daughters, Charlotte and Avery.