PERUGIA–Italian magazine journalist and author Fabio Chiusi engaged Internet sociologist Nathan Jurgenson in conversation about the spread of misleading information on social media on Thursday at the International Journalism Festival.
“In the United States at least most question about the internet or technology have to be put through the lens of is it good or bad? Which is obviously the dumbest question you can ask of the Internet. Obviously it’s both,” Mr. Jurgenson said. “Somebody who says that it’s blanket good or bad, don’t listen to that person.”
As they spoke the day after Facebook Inc. founder Mark Zuckerberg’s two-day testimony before Washington lawmakers, the conversation naturally turned to the social-media giant the dissemination of misleading articles known as “fake news” on Facebook during the 2016 election season.
Mr. Jurgenson, who is currently employed by Facebook’s chief rival, was critical of Mr. Zuckerberg’s company. He runs an online magazine published by social-media startup Snapchat Inc.
“I don’t think it’s that different from how everyone was consuming the news before,” said Mr. Jurgenson. In his eyes, when people share and believe “fake news” and conspiracy theories, they’re participating in the same behavior they participated in barroom conversations since time immemorial.
Mr. Jurgenson criticized the claim–expressed by some Facebook executives in past years–that the company’s product was a disinterested platform free of any ideology, or even a “perfect empty vessel.”
“There’s no such thing as not having politics,” Mr. Jurgenson said of the idea. “The failure to recognize your politics is itself a kind of politics.” Rather, he suggested that Facebook’s politics lay in its aim to quantify and analyze human behavior through the lens of data and algorithms.
“[Facebook] believes that really all of this is if you have enough data, and you get the right algorithm, you can understand this and you can govern this,” Mr. Jurgenson said. “I think that’s an extremely foreign and radical–not just view, but politics.” Mr. Chiusi is a fellow at the Nexa Center for Internet & Society.

Patience Haggin