By Claire Bernish
As you’ve likely heard by now, Facebook has taken its war against ‘fake news’ to a whole other level — employing third-party media and fact-checking organizations to judge whether news items are legitimate — to the consternation of countless users who see the platform overstepping red lines.
Servile corporate media immediately parroted the wealth of benefits that Facebook’s plan will ostensibly provide, from an alert and gateway system forced onto articles deemed “disputed,” to the organizations making the ‘kiss of death’ judgment call: Snopes, FactCheck.org, Politifact, and ABC News.
Anyone with passing knowledge of bias in media is probably spitting out their coffee — all four organizations are notoriously left-leaning and liberal, and the list includes no outlets with any other of myriad ideological tilts.
Indeed, right-leaning outlets from Breitbart to the Drudge Report, as well as the sizable alternative media community — who, collectively, held themselves to higher journalistic standards throughout the election cycle than “old media” titans like the New York Times and Washington Post — quickly condemned the unabashed bias imbued in Facebook’s plan.
Mark Zuckerberg, a large consensus concluded, just declared war on dissent — if not information, itself.
But in an article intended to criticize purveyors of ‘fake news’ and applaud the social media platform’s oh-so-noble efforts to strike such outlets from the American interwebs, The Atlantic’s Kaveh Waddell posited, “Will Facebook’s Fake News Warning Become a Badge of Honor?”
Waddell asks this question, the reader doesn’t discover until more than halfway through the article, through a lens of myopic bias — if not outright scorn — against anyone who dare question the motives of Facebook or its choice of fact-checkers.
“There’s a danger that people who are disinclined to trust traditional sources of information will treat Facebook’s warnings as a badge of honor,” Waddell clarifies. “If fact-checking organizations deem a story questionable, they might be more likely to read and share it, rather than less. There’s reason to believe this group might think of itself as a counterculture, and take the position that anything that ‘the man’ rejects must have a grain of subversive truth to it.”
For a journalist in a nationally regarded publication to display such seething condescension toward a category of people perhaps most critical to preventing a narrowing of news media to a single viewpoint is criminally self-interested, indeed — evincing the paranoia among old media to validate its reporting in the wake of horrendous election coverage.
Regardless of his patronizing tone, Waddell’s question presents what might be the thinnest silver lining to having a Facebook-approved information gatekeeper — news deemed “disputed” will be viewed by non-establishment thinkers as bearing the Scarlet Letter C — censored for being problematic for the political elite.
In other words, this soft censorship could facilely create a Streisand Effect — whereby efforts to suppress content backfire and instead draw greater attention to something than it ever would have received otherwise.
Waddell and the Atlantic, among others, like the Daily Beast — known mouthpieces for the Democratic establishment scrambling to blame Hillary Clinton’s loss on everything but the kitchen sink of a horribly flawed campaign — realize to some degree the threat posed by legitimate criticism of the accepted narrative.
This battle has literally nil to do with fake news — or even Russia — and everything to do with the power of dissent.
Of course, a brazen irony in Facebook’s purge of random items is CEO Mark Zuckerberg’s comments on the subject prior to mass Democratic and corporate media hysteria over iterations Donald Trump won because Russia:
Of all the content on Facebook, more than 99 percent of what people see is authentic. Only a very small amount is fake news and hoaxes. The hoaxes that do exist are not limited to one partisan view, or even to politics. Overall, this makes it extremely unlikely hoaxes changed the outcome of this election in one direction or the other.
Zuckerberg’s protestations and resistance to acknowledge ‘fake news’ as influencing the outcome of the election quickly melted under pressure from the pro-Hillary camp — and evaporated as Clintonites and a smattering of miffed Republicans switched gears and ratcheted up New Red Scare propagandizing.
When utterly unfounded, un-researched, and unverified reporting by the Washington Post termed the collective body of independent, right-slanted, or pro-Jill Stein media organizations as either active agents of Russia or the Putin’s “useful idiots,” those outlets formed an implicit bond for having been scurrilously blacklisted.
Once the Post’s thinly-veneered paper tiger went down in flames for it being impossible to substantiate, the outlet threw journalistic integrity out the window and proffered another unprovable paragon of irresponsibility: “Secret CIA assessment says Russia was trying to help Trump win White House.”
This gem swears CIA officials have performed an extensive assessment of the election and can prove individuals with ties to the Russian government as responsible for submitting documents on the Democratic Party to WikiLeaks for publication — an allegation Julian Assange emerged from the shadows to dispel in an interview with Sean Hannity on Thursday.
WikiLeaks — whose published documents have never been proven inauthentic — found itself on the Post’s ‘Russian agent blacklist.’
In other words, by relying on user-reporting and biased outlets to flag articles means any “disputed” contents feasibly earned that label on a subjective — not hard and fast — basis.
But should there be any labeling — read: moderate censorship — of articles and items by a social media behemoth who claims impartiality while rubbing elbows with Democratic heavy-hitters? All grumblings on Facebook’s status as a private entity aside, when your platform acts as the primary news aggregator for millions, there is a staunch obligation to preserve the rights of everyone to speak their version of truth.
To be honest, that includes outlets spewing horrendously false news items as the real thing.
In this new age of information aptly deemed the post-truth era by the Oxford Dictionaries this year, the onus of consequence for sharing any erroneous or fabricated information falls squarely on the shoulders of the fecklessly lazy who don’t bother checking sources and hyperlinks — or, in most cases, read more than the title — before disseminating information online.
Because that basic duty was apparently too much for so many to bear, we’re now all faced with the Huxleyan prospect of being spoon fed vanilla government propaganda disguised as news — while legitimate news earns the dystopic “disputed” label.
Maybe, just maybe, Waddell and the others have it all wrong. Maybe the imminent Streisand Effect will thwart Facebook gatekeeping in its tracks. Maybe people have wearied of the perilous penchant for categorization. Maybe this Scarlet Lettering of dissenting viewpoints will disgust the wary and students of history.
Maybe Facebook will see its fast-approaching, inevitable demise and decide the suppression of information does not a profitable business move make — or maybe the “disputed” info plot represents the ultimate poison pill.
Image Credit: TheFreeThoughtProject.com
The History and Future of Social Engineering