The New York Times has an article by Nellie Bowles about Facebook’s Campbell Brown — who is, according to Bowles, seen by some as an “insidious figure — a telegenic personality with close ties to conservative figures who can offer Facebook’s outreach the veneer of journalistic credibility.” (Close ties to conservative figures?! Horrors!) As one example of the kind of alleged right-wing conspiracy mongering that supposedly occurs on Facebook, Bowles cites stories that Palestinians pay millions in pensions to the families of terrorists:
Facebook — with its reach of more than 2.2 billion users — already holds enormous power over the news that people consume. But now it is making its first venture into licensed news content. Facebook has set aside a $90 million budget to have partners develop original news programming, and Ms. Brown is pitching publishers on making Facebook-specific news shows featuring mainstream anchors, according to two people involved in or briefed on the matter, who asked not to be identified because the details were confidential.
Once those shows get started, Ms. Brown wants to use Facebook’s existing Watch product — a service introduced in 2017 as a premium product with more curation that has nonetheless been flooded with far-right conspiracy programming like “Palestinians Pay $400 million Pensions For Terrorist Families” — to be a breaking news destination. The result would be something akin to an online competitor to cable news.
Crazy conspiracy nonsense, right?
Not so much, as it happens. As the blog Why Evolution Is True notes, these payments are real. The annual budgets are often hundreds of millions of dollars. Anyone who follows the conflict has heard of this — anyone, that is, except for Nellie Bowles.
Now The Times has had to issue a correction:
An article on Sunday about Campbell Brown’s role as Facebook’s head of news partnerships erroneously included a reference to Palestinian actions as an example of the sort of far-right conspiracy stories that have plagued Facebook. In fact, Palestinian officials have acknowledged providing payments to the families of Palestinians killed while carrying out attacks on Israelis or convicted of terrorist acts and imprisoned in Israel; that is not a conspiracy theory.
This is what is dangerous about Facebook and Big Media deciding what’s “fake” and sweeping it from view. A lot of what they consider “fake” is actually true — and vice versa.
Who will watch the self-appointed watchdogs? How can we decide if any article is fake news if we never get to see it? These are valid questions of concern in a world where people who all share a left-leaning point of view are entrusted to decide what we should and should not see.