We got through most of this entire lunatic campaign season without nary a word about fake news sites. I find this amusing as for the most part I consider Fox, MSNBC, CNN, etc, etc, to all essentially be fake news sites. They don’t actually report news so much as they seek to shape public opinion to serve whatever interests they champion. There’s also the ever delicious The Onion which is usually a good place for a decent laugh, though even they have an obvious slant they push, but they’re obviously an admitted satire site.
But what folks are actually talking about are the sites that are totally off the deep end. They have no purpose except to play people for morons to move the election needle. Some of the examples I’ve heard over the last week were popular articles that said something along the lines (my paraphrase) of, but all of these were lies:
– The Pope had endorsed Trump
– Trump had commuted to Valhalla before the campaign ended
– Machines will not be our Masters
– Trump won the popular vote
– Going vegan makes you happy
– Trump was seen at Putin’s dacha alongside six former Olympic gymnasts (I too thought this one 99% accurate)
– The Walking Dead is a good television show
So now that the election is over a whole bunch of folks are stating that these fake news posts were in some way responsible for altering the course of the election. This point of view is mostly for those in the Hilary camp who ascribe some of the last minute push towards Trump as caused by said nakedly vicious pro-Trump fake news. Facebook, Google, and your local school newspaper are now thus under pressure to filter and delete said fake news stories from their feeds. The idea is that you the voter will no longer see this fake news so you can know the news you read online is legit.
First off, I feel sorry for Facebook and Google on this because no matter what they do everybody is going to hate them for it. One side will claim they’re not doing enough to police fake news or hate speech, the other side will claim censorship. Both sides will be simultaneously right and wrong. Facebook and Google will be caught in the middle of the broader cultural wars. Zuckerberg will become progressively more frustrated and insane, thus laying the groundwork for his impending slide into the oblivion of Bond villain darkness.
Because honestly who gets to decide what’s fake? As I understand what Facebook and Google are being asked to do, they have to hire somebody to edit their feeds. Then that person upon viewing some news they deem fake is supposed to delete it so folks can’t see it. Well, what’s fake?
– The Pope had endorsed Trump, fake, delete.
– Okay, what about The Onion? Well, that’s fake too, but that’s satire, so, do not delete? I guess. Well, what’s satire and what’s fake news? Who determines the difference?
– Okay, what about Salon or National Review? Well, they’re flamethrower sites for the acolytes, so it’s analysis and not technically news, so, do not delete? I guess. Who gets to determine the best way for remembering where you put your keys?
– What about that random Facebook post by normal average human that becomes popular but is chock full of lunacy, lies, and opinion? Well, but that’s not from a news site, so, we do not delete? But it’s still fake, so shouldn’t that person be made to shut up? Even if that person is just an average person they’re still shaping public opinion, aren’t they? Who decides who is made to shut up?
– But what if somebody reposted that person’s post as if it was news? Do we delete them too? What about somebody’s random blog post, is that news? Who decides what’s a blog post and what’s fake news? Who decides if Lady Gaga is hot or not?
– What about a 1930’s Looney Tunes cartoon clip with Speedy Gonzalez, is that hate speech worthy of deletion? Who determines what is hate speech, what is stupidity, what is fake news, and what’s just normal average painful human discourse to resolve our problems? Have you contemplated your future bleached skeleton status lately?
– What about a scene from Frozen which falsely gives the impression via fake news that Elsa would not have been put to death by the Catholic Church for witchcraft in real life? Shouldn’t we delete that too?
And on and on and on.
Where does this end? Where do you draw the line on what should be seen and deleted? What is fake and what’s not? The answer always will end up being the opinion of some screener, likely guided by policy that a bunch of folks from Facebook and Google got together and wrote. And thus, a bunch of random people you’ve never met get to determine what you’re allowed to say and read. This is not healthy in any aspect.
Facebook and Google are private companies and can essentially do whatever they want within the law. For example, if Google decided it hated cats and deleted all cat content from its site I’m pretty sure there’s nothing anybody could do to stop them. But Facebook and Google are also so ubiquitous to society you could make an argument they’re becoming an intrinsic part of our culture, infrastructure, lives. Do we really want two of the global Internets backbone sites to be in the censorship business? For any reason at all?
I come down to two points on this:
1) I am an open season kind of person on free speech and thus to all the Internets. Facebook, Google, Twitter should not be in the business of removing content whether it’s fake, hateful, whatever. This means you can post fake Trump news, evil ISIS propaganda, incorrect tips for how to properly cook an egg, Tweet how much you despise [insert anything here], and so on. Dealing with all this nonsense is a price worth paying rather than living in an online society where strangers get to police thought.
2) Humans as free individuals are responsible for what they do and do not read and how they process information they acquire online, in newspapers, from ads, from their neighbors, from their imaginary friend, from their own fears, from their own dreams. If somebody read fake news and believed it, that’s their own problem and responsibility. Living in a free society is hard work. It requires you to think for yourself, do your own research, and make your own decisions. It’s not the responsibility of society to do that job for the citizen. Indeed, if society did, then said citizen would never be truly free.
And I want us all to live free.