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Why it’s so hard to trust Facebook

Why won’t Facebook show the public the propagandistic ads that a so-called Russian troll farm bought last year to target American voters?

That lack of transparency is troubling to many observers. “Show us the ads Zuck!” Silicon Valley entrepreneur Jason Calacanis wrote on Twitter when The Washington Post reported on the surreptitious ad buys on Wednesday.

Calacanis said Facebook was “profiting off fake news,” echoing a widely held criticism of the social network.

It was only the latest example of Facebook’s credibility problem. For a business based on the concept of friendship, it’s proving to be a hard company to trust.

On the business side, Facebook’s metrics for advertisers have been error-prone, to say the least. Analysts and reporters have repeatedly uncovered evidence of faulty data and measurement mistakes.

Facebook’s opaqueness has also engendered mistrust in the political arena. Conservative activists have accused the company of censoring right-wing voices and stories. Liberal activists have raised alarms about its exploitation of personal information to target ads.

And the news business is worried about the spread of bogus stories and hoaxes on the site.

Some critics have even taken to calling Facebook a “surveillance company,” seeking to reframe the business the social network is in — not networking but ad targeting based on monitoring of users.

Facebook executives dispute that their site is a “black box” of secretive algorithms. And they say they’ve taken concrete actions to halt the spread of so-called fake news.

But some news industry executives don’t trust that Facebook fully recognizes the problem. Inaccurate and just plain made-up information spreads virally across Facebook and other social networks every day.

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