I have long thought that all of the drama regarding Facebook and so called “fake news” is overblown as well as misguided
I don’t dispute that there is a lot of garbage published and shared on that platform, but I bristle at the hysteria and political posturing over how the fate of our republic hinges upon Mark Zuckerberg protecting us from bogus news articles—or at least what some computer algorithm programmed by humans with their own subjective notions about what “bogus” means determines to be bogus.
Not long ago there was a State Farm Insurance commercial where a lady was certain that “they can’t put it on the internet if it isn’t true.” The humor in that spot is derived, obviously, from the fact that anyone who has spent any time at all using the internet knows that it contains as much nonsense as it does real information. It’s full of conspiracy theories and hoaxes, get rich quick scams, and deliberately misleading propaganda. That stuff isn’t relegated to Media Matters or Gateway Pundit; it’s everywhere. We laughed at the ad because we know the internet is a reflection of society, some of which is genuine and some of which is garbage. The latter may in fact be the greater share.
The conventional wisdom that sees Mark Zuckerberg getting grilled by Congress about people sharing B.S. on Facebook is the one we laughed at in the State Farm commercial. This push to purge fake news from Facebook is a futile effort to make the hopelessly naive lady’s delusion real. People literally want to create a world where “they can’t put it on the internet if it isn’t true.” This is utopian folly.
Still, this week we see that Facebook is seeking to hire “news credibility specialists.”
The company has open job listings for two “news credibility specialists,” one of which would be required to be able to speak, read, and write fluently in Spanish. The jobs, which Facebook listed within the last few weeks, would be contract positions, rather than full-time, but would be based in Menlo Park, California, site of Facebook’s headquarters.
“We’re seeking individuals with a passion for journalism, who believe in Facebook’s mission of making the world more connected,” one of the two listings reads. It continues: “As a member of the team, you’ll be tasked with developing a deep expertise in Facebook’s News Credibility Program. You’ll be conducting investigations against predefined policies.”
Facebook would ask the specialists to help create a list of credible news organizations. That list could be used for various features on the site, from the newsfeed to its advertising system.
While many in the last few years have adopted a strictly binary way of looking at the world, no news organization is wholly fake or wholly credible. I would argue that you can seldom find even a single article that you can depend on as entirely factual.
Facebook says its mission is to make the world more connected. Fine. The world is full of erroneous content ranging from intentional misinformation, misunderstood satire or humor, faulty logic, conjecture, honest error, and outright stupidity. Facebook doesn’t want to connect you to the world. It wants to connect you to a sanitized (and fake) version of it where someone you don’t know decides what parts of it you should or shouldn’t see. No one is qualified to make those decisions for you.
The truth is that false information on social media (and everywhere, really) was a common thing before Donald Trump made “fake news” a slogan for addressing a spectrum of stories ranging from genuinely deceitful to simply unfavorable. Dishonesty has existed for as long as communication.
Even the fakest of fake news shared on social media carries with it some truth. That truth may be that your second-cousin Gertrude has the critical thinking faculties of a drunken lemur, or that your best friend’s Uncle Rufus is a paranoid racist who believes chemtrails are turning all the frogs gay. These are actually important things to know if you are in any way forced to interact with these people in meatspace.
Your parents in 1996: Don't trust ANYONE on the Internet.
Your parents in 2016: Freedom Eagle dot Facebook says Hillary invented AIDS.
— Daniel Kibblesmith (@kibblesmith) November 19, 2016
A few simple rules negate any need for Facebook or Congress to censor or encroach on your internet usage.
- If you use Facebook, use it as a social network, not a newspaper.
- Always exercise a healthy skepticism, especially about claims that you really want to believe.
- Don’t assume anything is automatically true because someone you often agree with shared it with you.
- Don’t assume anything is automatically false because someone you usually disagree with shared it with you.
- If the only source for a news item you can find is the blog reporting it, assume it’s garbage until corroborated by reputable sources.
- Do your own homework and your own thinking instead of letting yourself get stampeded with the rest of the herd.
There is only one person responsible for protecting you from fake news: YOU.
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