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Meet the women fighting fake news on Facebook

At a company where senior management is 70 percent male, the leaders of Facebook's news efforts are majority women. These are some of them.

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Joan E. Solsman
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1 of 8 Sarah Tew/CNET

Meet the women fighting fake news on Facebook

At Facebook, where men outnumber women nearly two to one, the majority of the people leading the social network's news projects are female. Their jobs have high stakes: Their success or failure will shape the future of journalism and affect elections. 

These are some of those women. 

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Alex Hardiman

The head of news products at Facebook, Alex Hardiman comes from a family of newspeople, stretching back to her great grandmother who worked as a radio broadcaster in Rapid City, South Dakota, more than 80 years ago. 

"We want to make sure that, by the end of even this year, people trust the information that they see in News Feed or anywhere else on Facebook," she says. 

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Campbell Brown

"When I was a woman in TV news and I had my first child, I was back on the air six weeks after having my baby. And I moderated a presidential debate eight weeks after having my baby," says Campbell Brown, who was a television news journalist before joining Facebook. "I was literally pumping breast milk on the floor in an auditorium 10 minutes before I went on the air." 

Tech, like news, tends to be male-dominated, but Brown says the atypically high presence of women on Facebook's news teams makes them special.

"These are all women who like to work on hard problems, who feel a sense of mission around the work that we're trying to do and understand the importance of it, the impact it has on our society, on our children and how they're going to grow up in this world," she says. "And that connects us in a pretty powerful way."

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4 of 8 James Martin/CNET

Tessa Lyons

"I don't think that success is that there is never a false piece of information on Facebook," says Tessa Lyons, a product manager for types of misinformation across the board. "Because the truth is Facebook is a platform for people to express themselves."  

Yet, "when I, as a user, come to Facebook, I expect that the information I see is going to be authentic, that the people that I'm interacting with are their real selves, and that the pages I'm engaging with are actually who they say they are," she says. 

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Mollie Vandor

A product manager for news credibility, Mollie Vandor is the daughter of newspeople, with a broadcast producer and director for a father and a reporter and anchor for a mother. It instilled a "deep appreciation" for the importance of quality news and the investment and effort that goes into it, she says.

"I remember at a really young age watching my mom report from the riots, the LA riots. I was in my pajamas, and she was standing in front of this crazy chaotic scene. And she was just standing there, so collected and calm, and telling the story of these people," she says. "She helped me understand as a child what was going on there. I remember thinking, 'Wow, my mom is a real badass.' And I wanted to be just like her."

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Sara Su

As product manager tackling misinformation in critical countries, Sara Su faces challenges that have some of the highest stakes. In countries like Myanmar, the United Nations has called Facebook "a beast" for its role in spreading hate speech that has contributed to ethnic violence. 

"The focus of our team is really to understand why there's so much divisiveness in the world, understand how we reduce that and hold common ground," she says. "It's a challenging problem, and something everyone on the team feels really personally connected to."

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Mona Sarantakos

Mona Sarantakos worked at a start-up before joining Facebook, where she is a product manager for news formats. "I was the first person to have a child ... at my startup, as in, I wrote maternity leave policy," she says.

Working in a group with so many women has fostered bonds between the team members. With a glance, she says, one of her colleagues "knows my kid didn't sleep. She knows I cried when I left for the office. She knows within a second what happened and can give me a hug. That's a moment that I think is really important, and it's what fosters a lot of the connections that we have. And our connections then can run deep enough to where we can be really honest, we can share in both our celebrations as well as our sorrows."

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Antonia Woodford

When people think about false news, most of the attention goes to fabricated news stories, but Product Manager Antonia Woodford addresses misinformation that manifests in photos, videos and memes. 

"With memes, there's a fine line to draw between people trying to be funny ... and actually intended to deceive," she says. "There's a lot of appetite at the company to make sure that we're not just dealing with the current problem but to address what we think will be the next wave of problems."

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