“A nation that is afraid to let the people judge the truth and falsehood in an open market is a nation afraid of its people.” – John F. Kennedy
Following the historic 2016 US presidential election, Facebook CEO, Mark Zuckerberg has expressed interest in cracking down on “fake news.” Facebook has been the largest social media website for nearly a decade, and now has over 1 billion monthly active users.
It’s no doubt that Facebook has been a core contributor to the spread of information during the past election season. Especially considering that trust in mainstream media has dropped to 6%. People are going to the internet to learn about current events now more than ever before. So, how much of the information spread on Facebook was fake news?
Although Zuckerberg himself believes that “more than 99% of what people see is authentic,” he is still doing all he can to stop the flow of false information.
Just 10 days after the election, Zuckerberg stated that he wished to “rely on [the] community and trusted third parties” to identify fake news on his website. Some of the third parties referred to are fact-checking sites Snopes and Politifact.
By using third party sites, Zuckerberg hopes to avoid internal bias against certain publications. In addition, the idea of a installing a false news report button has been mentioned as a way for users to easily report fake articles. On the surface, Mark Zuckerberg’s claims seem reasonable, however, they breed harsh concerns of censorship.
Putting trust in the hands of fact-checking websites may create a bigger problem in the end. Even though Snopes and Politifact claim to be unbiased third-party fact-checking websites, the past tells a different story.
During Snopes’ origins, the site was mainly dedicated to myth-busting. Created by Barbara and David Mikkelson, Snopes took on urban legends about UFOs and mythical creatures. Nevertheless, the site has become heavily politicized over the past 20 years, and has become a current events hotspot.
Recently, Snopes has gone as far as to claim that just because Islamic Terrorist Omar Mateen was a registered Democrat, it didn’t mean that he was actually a democrat.
The site has also stated that Clinton campaign chairman, John Podesta was not involved in spirit cooking. The allegations were deemed as “false,” when raw emails from WikiLeaks proved that he was directly involved.
Hillary Clinton had stated from her affidavit that a victim of rape had sought out “older men,” had “engage[d] in fantasizing,” and in the past had made “false accusations.” Even after adding that children “tend to exaggerate or romanticize sexual experiences,” Snopes still denies Clinton asserted that the victim made up the rape story.
Then when KKK grand dragon, Will Quigg was said to have endorsed Hillary Clinton in 2016, the claim was said to be “unproven”. According to Snopes, a donation of $20k to Hillary Clinton’s campaign, and public support for Clinton wasn’t good enough evidence.
Maybe their ability to read Quigg, Clinton, and Mateen’s minds about what they truly believe proves that they are the perfect third party site to police Facebook and the rest of the web.
Furthermore, giving third-party websites authority makes them an arbiter of truth. The Mikkelson couple and their famous pet cat would gain an excessive amount of power. It’s unreasonable to think that the Mikkelson’s are completely objective when approaching news.
After all, bias exists in everyone. This doesn’t make the Mikkelson’s unlawful people, but it means that it may not be wise to grant them such power. When did it become the duty of others to decide what information we digest? In the past, it was the duty of the citizen to obtain information, and sort out fact from fiction his/herself.
It used to be the citizens doing the fact-checking. Now it is omnipotent organizations doing the work, and spoon feeding it to the masses.
In an article discussing Facebook’s plan to combat fake news, NPR’s Bill Chappell stated that “conspiracy theories,” along with fake news, were “identified as a motivating factor” for a North Carolina man to investigate Ping Pong Pizza with a firearm.
Chappell correlates fake news and conspiracy theories, implying that conspiracy theories are just as bad as false information. For decades, the word “conspiracy theory” has received negative connotation by the media. However, conspiracy theories are simply alternative ideas used to explain events, often backed up with evidence.
The media likes to pick apart the fringe conspiracies to paint the picture that conspiracy theories are crazy and untrue. If an idea can be labeled as a “conspiracy theory,” then more people will turn against it, and they won’t bat an eye if it is removed from Facebook. It is a simple tactic of character assassination used to delegitimize a viewpoint.
During Obama’s presidency, the allegations that his birth certificate was fraudulent were deemed as conspiracy theories. Yet, just this week, Sheriff Joe Arpaio released a press statement after a five year investigation showing that the certificate had 9 points of fraudulent material. Would this news be deemed conspiracy and fake news in Mark Zuckerberg’s utopia?
If Facebook continues its path in attacking conspiracy theories, and fake news, this could be a major problem for alternative media and free speech.
It seems as though Facebook and other social media sites have been vastly hypocritical when it comes to how they operate. Since the capture of Mosul, ISIS has developed new initiatives to use social media to spread its message of jihad. Platforms have taken major criticism for allowing these groups to post and hold accounts.
Just this week, three families have filed law suits against Facebook, Twitter, and Google, for allowing Islamic State propaganda on their social media platforms.
Twitter themselves state that they prohibit “the promotion of hate content, sensitive topics, and violence globally.” Twitter has a different implementation of these rules when it comes to ISIS accounts, and verification of the official twitter of the Muslim Brotherhood.
Facebook, on the other hand, states in their community standards that they remove “hate speech, which includes content that directly attacks people based on their: race, ethnicity…” In contrast, Facebook denied requests to remove MTV’s “2017 New Years Resolutions for White Guys” video that attacks white males. Since, MTV took it upon themselves to remove the video after receiving a heap of dislikes, but Facebook avoided taking action.
To make matters worse, Mark Zuckerberg met with communist China’s propaganda chief, Liu Yunshan earlier this year. Communist China has been at the forefront of censorship, installing the Great Firewall, or as they call it, the “Golden Shield.” Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, and a vast list of other sites have been banned in China.
Contrary to what most believe, most of China’s censorship isn’t about cutting off access with the western world, rather, controlling and surveilling what the population sees.
Mark Zuckerberg has said that it is “extremely unlikely [that] hoaxes changed the outcome of this election,” yet his hard approach to stop fake news tells a different story. Maybe the attack on fake news isn’t truly about suppressing phony news articles.
It could be that for the first time, the legacy media has lost its viewers to the internet, a place where truth is able to be sought out. With a war on false news, the internet will have reasonable grounds to create a thought-police for the digital world, reporting, suppressing, and even deleting information.
The monopolization of the web could be the next chess move in controlling the minds of the youth. The legacy media once again seems to be shooting itself in the foot, while trying to heal its wounds that were exposed during the election.
Maybe mainstream media should look at itself in the mirror before they lecture Americans about fake news. The following are just a few of the lies spread over the past 8 years: “If you like your doctor, you can keep your doctor,” “If you like your healthcare plan, you can keep you’re your healthcare plan,” “Donald Trump has no path to 270,” “ISIS is contained,” “The NSA is not spying on phone calls or emails of US citizens,” “Hands up, don’t shoot.”
Independent media, although under attack, still looks to be on the rise.