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7 questions Facebook's Mark Zuckerberg needs to answer about InfoWars

Commentary: Does Facebook take fake news seriously enough? Let's ask its CEO together.

fighting fake news
James Martin

Hey, Zuck, can we talk?

There's a massive debate going on in this country about fake news -- what it is, who gets to decide and how it should be challenged.

And Facebook (and you, Mark Zuckerberg) are smack in the middle of it.

Today's drama centers on InfoWars, which, as you know, is a website, YouTube channel and Twitter account that spreads conspiracy theories and publishes untruths. Like claiming surviving high schoolers from a Parkland, Florida, shooting are "crisis actors." (They aren't.) That 9/11 was an inside job. (Not true.) That the murder of 27 people, including 20 children, at Sandy Hook Elementary was a hoax. (False.) And that Hillary Clinton was involved in a child sex trafficking ring. (Ugh.)

Yet your social network, which feeds news, entertainment, blogs and a fair amount of misinformation to about 2 billion people on the planet every month, is treating InfoWars as a legitimate news source, with a Facebook Page and platform to spew its filth. That's putting InfoWars on a similar level with mainstream news organizations like The Washington Post, CNN and even CNET.

When a New York Times reporter challenged Facebook on why it continues to give InfoWars a platform, one of your communications people replied in a tweet:

"We just don't think banning Pages for sharing conspiracy theories or false news is the right way to go."

Really? That's how you're fighting fake news? In February, your team called these hoaxes "abhorrent" and vowed to remove them. Now, not so much.

Your team then went on to instead use the "I know we are, but so are they" defense, noting that InfoWars has "YouTube and Twitter accounts too -- we imagine for the same reason."

It seems as though Facebook has given up even attempting thought leadership. Instead, your company's response has undermined Facebook's integrity.

Let's be frank: Something's got to change. The hand-wringing, nothing-can-be-done approach you've taken to propaganda, conspiracy theories and flat-out lies posted on Facebook under the banner of "news" is just plain crazy.

You're not just doing a disservice to the billions of people who use your site each month, you're threatening rational discourse (what's left of it, anyway).

As I told Twitter CEO Jack Dorsey last year when I was moved to write him about online harassment, reality is coming down hard on social networking. Yet no one seems more publicly oblivious than you, the man who told Congress and the EU that Facebook was working to fix things.  

Mark, it's time to take a good, long, hard look in the mirror.

Of all the missteps, blunders and poor decisions made by Facebook over the years, this may be one of the biggest.

And since you've only recently begun to step up interviews with media outlets, and didn't respond to a request to speak with us for this story, I'm going to ask my seven questions here instead.

1. InfoWars is in the business of spreading hoaxes, conspiracy theories and outright lies. And many people believe them. Just ask the Sandy Hook parents tormented by InfoWars' followers, or the shooter who stormed into Comet Ping Pong pizzeria, in Washington, DC, to rescue children trapped in a sex-slave ring that didn't exist.

Why are you OK with that kind of stuff being on Facebook?

This isn't about conservative versus liberal. It's about right and wrong. I'm well aware conservatives on Facebook have risen up against you before, and that you've been on the receiving end of blistering attacks from the Senate, Congress and White House.

I know you don't want to look like you're silencing political voices you disagree with. That's why it's time to take a stand on this one publication.

Is there a slippery slope? Of course. There's a slippery slope for everything. But you're a smart man, and you have a huge PR team helping you. Do the right thing.

2. You've clamped down on fake political ads. What are you doing about the rest?

We know you've partnered with news organizations, warned people that stories may potentially be false and stepped up enforcement of your harassment policies. That's great.

But if you can't make a brave call on an organization attacking parents and victims, what good is all the rest of it?

3. Are you just afraid of the backlash?

Our editor-in-chief, Connie Guglielmo, has offered to join your board. She's super smart. She can help.

4. If shaming teenage shooting survivors isn't enough to get kicked off Facebook, what is?

Honestly, where does this stop?

5. You say you draw the line at terrorism on Facebook. InfoWars is waging emotional terrorism against innocent victims. You're OK with that?

It isn't that hard a question.

6. Did you let things get so out of hand that you can't fix the problem?

You've already admitted you were too slow to respond to Russian meddling. You've also admitted you didn't take seriously enough your job to protect all our data from unscrupulous developers and companies like Cambridge Analytica.

It's OK to admit you screwed up here too. We all know it anyway. Now, I just want to know if fixing the problem is even possible at this point.

7. Can you even tamp down on fake news, hate and conspiracy theories?

This is a very hard problem and you've expressed discomfort with being the arbiter of truth. I get it. But you created this mess, and now it's something you have to come to grips with.

If your answer, ultimately, is that you can't handle that task, that's OK, too. I'm sure many other people would be happy to give it a try.

Do you have questions for Zuckerberg? Let's hear them.

Cambridge Analytica: Everything you need to know about Facebook's data mining scandal.

iHate: CNET looks at how intolerance is taking over the internet.