The Daily Mirror is read by the people who think they run the country, The Guardian is read by people who think they ought to run the country, The Times is read by the people who actually do run the country, or so the familiar quotation from Yes, Minister runs. But with the latest crisis engulfing social media over its role in the US presidential election, an update is needed: Facebook is read by so many people that the site itself accidentally ends up determining who runs the country.

To back up a bit, there’s a scandal brewing, and it’s about how fake news handed Trump the keys to the White House. Not satire or parody of the kind found in Private Eye or The Onion, but false news stories dressed up as actual reporting and passed off as the real thing, that quickly gain momentum and rocket across the social media universe fuelled by likes and shares and upvotes. By the time the debunkers catch up, the narratives have already caught on.

Here are some examples of fake news stories that went viral, despite being completely untrue. An FBI agent suspected in the Hillary email leaks was found dead in an apparent murder-suicide. The Pope has endorsed Donald Trump. President Obama and Hillary Clinton promised amnesty to undocumented immigrants who vote Democrat. The NYPD is investigating and building a case against Bill Clinton pertaining to an underage sex ring. NATO troops are on high-alert for World War III.

The fact that these fake stories have abounded isn’t an issue in itself – people are free to make up whatever they like. Where the controversy lies is that Facebook’s algorithms – which are now all-powerful since Facebook fired its human news curators in August – are incapable of distinguishing them from genuine news stories. If that sounds ludicrous then you haven’t been paying attention to how news works on social media. From traditional newspapers like the Daily Mail to the Independent, though to digital startups like BuzzFeed and Heat Street, sensationalist “clickbaity” headlines have become the norm, the more shocking and outrage-inducing the better. No wonder a computer algorithm has difficulty sifting the sounds-too-hyperbolic-to-be-true real stories from the sounds-like-it-could-be-true fake stories.

Trouble is, almost half of US adults get their news from Facebook, according to a recent study. Shocking, but not surprising if you’ve been watching the mad scramble as Facebook and Google hoover up 75 percent of advertising dollars from the journalism industry. And with great power comes great responsibility. The responsibility for, for example, not promoting stories from 140 pro-Trump fake news sites run by Macedonian teenagers for easy money. (Yes, that really happened, see BuzzFeed’s exposé here.)

This week, BuzzFeed (which is itself the adolescent poster child of the clickbait news era) has another scoop: Renegade Facebook Employees Form Task Force To Battle Fake News. Faced with Mark Zuckerberg’s obstinance to do anything about the proliferation of fake news on Facebook and his insistence that it had no role in influencing the presidential election, a secret group of employees is working from within the organisation to change the culture and protocols that allow content like the story about a dead Clinton-linked FBI agent to flourish.

Will it be make an impact. Unlikely. As Bobby Goodlatte, a former Facebook designer, put it:

“Sadly, News Feed optimizes for engagement. As we’ve learned in this election, bulls**t is highly engaging. A bias towards truth isn’t an impossible goal. Wikipedia, for instance, still bends towards the truth despite a massive audience. But it’s now clear that democracy suffers if our news environment incentivizes bulls**t.”

We knew we were living in a bubble. Left, right, progressive, conservative, Democrat, Republican, Leave, Remain – whatever your views, your Facebook feed is meticulously curated to show you more of what you want to see. Hugo Rifkind’s Times column today is an astute commentary on exactly where this kind of myopic obsession is leading us. But what we clearly hadn’t prepared for was the move from full-throated partiality to cloud-headed fantasy. This is “post-truth politics” on a whole other level. And now, without even realising how we got here, we’re in a world where hoaxes made up by Macedonian teenagers can somehow manipulate who runs most powerful country of them all.