Despite Facebook’s insistence that fake news is not the problem the public thinks it is, the growing cultural conversation has become big enough that the social networking giant is acknowledging it could have an impact.
In the company’s annual filing with the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission today, Facebook for the first time added a couple of brief mentions of the subject in its list of risk factors.
In this paragraph, it added the phrase “the quality and integrity of content shared on our platform”:
Unfavorable publicity regarding, for example, our privacy practices, terms of service, product changes, product quality, litigation or regulatory activity, government surveillance, the actions of our advertisers, the actions of our developers whose products are integrated with our products, the use of our products or services for illicit, objectionable, or illegal ends, the actions of our users, the quality and integrity of content shared on our platform, or the actions of other companies that provide similar services to us, could adversely affect our reputation. Such negative publicity also could have an adverse effect on the size, engagement, and loyalty of our user base and result in decreased revenue, which could adversely affect our business and financial results.
The company later added a reference to “dissemination of misinformation or news hoaxes”:
“We have faced, currently face, and will continue to face claims relating to information that is published or made available on our products. In particular, the nature of our business exposes us to claims related to defamation, dissemination of misinformation or news hoaxes, intellectual property rights, rights of publicity and privacy, and personal injury torts, or local laws regulating hate speech or other types of content.”
The additional disclosures come after several months of fury — across the political spectrum — about Facebook’s role in aiding the spread of fake news and disinformation during the presidential campaign. While one would have to squint to catch these latest disclosures, it’s notable that Facebook at least felt the subject was significant enough that it needed to be disclosed to investors.