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Facebook under pressure from shareholders to fix fake news

CEO Mark Zuckerberg says misinformation on the site is "a theme I know a lot of us are thinking about."

CEO Mark Zuckerberg took heat from shareholders over fake news.
James Martin/CNET

Fake news is still a real problem for Facebook, and now shareholders are speaking up.

At the social networking giant's annual shareholder meeting on Thursday, the topic of misinformation spreading on the site came up multiple times.

There was a proposal, which was denied, from two institutional investors asking Facebook to publish a report on "public policy issues associated with managing fake news." Then there was an admonishment from the Rev. Jesse Jackson saying "fake news and lies is about to destroy us."

In Zuckerberg's prepared remarks, he brought up the topic too. "Making sure people have access to good information is a really important part of what we care about," Zuckerberg said. Creating an informed community, he said, is "a theme I know a lot of us are thinking about."

Facebook has been under fire for fake news since before the US election, and some of President Donald Trump's detractors blamed the phenomenon for tipping the scales in his favor. Zuckerberg at first shrugged off the accusation, saying the idea that fake news swayed the election was "pretty crazy."

Since then, the company has taken more responsibility. The social network in December introduced a way to flag fake stories and partnered with third-party fact checkers to help curb the problem. The company also changed its advertising policies to try to make sure content creators didn't profit from putting fake articles on the site.

"A lot of the folks that spread hoaxes and false news aren't actually doing it for an ideological reason," Zuckerberg said Thursday. "They're doing it because they're basically spammers who are trying to make money."

Facebook's meeting came one day after former Democratic presidential candidate Hillary Clinton criticized social media sites such as Facebook for fake news at Recode's Code Conference in Rancho Palos Verdes, California. She called the situation "unprecedented."

At the annual meeting on Thursday, one shareholder asked Facebook's executives to respond to Clinton's criticism. Sheryl Sandberg, Facebook's COO, said she heard about Clinton speaking at the conference, but hadn't had a chance to read the transcript. "I can't react to the specific comment," she said. Sandberg did speak more generally about Facebook wanting to fix the problem of fake news.

"People want accurate news on Facebook. That's what we want on Facebook," she said. "It is going to be a long term process."

Aside from fake news, Zuckerberg also addressed a few other topics from shareholders.

He said in the "long term," Facebook is exploring an entry into mainland China, but there are a number of regulatory questions the company has to figure out first. "This is something we need to think about if we're going to connect the entire world."

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