There are no laws to protect people from misinformation. So, as the nation moves towards the home stretch of the presidential campaign, Americans must carefully consider where they’ve gathered the information that shapes their political views.
If your news comes primarily from social media sources like Facebook, Twitter, or YouTube, you are not alone. A survey by Pew Research shows that 78% of citizens under the age of 50 get their news from these sites, mainly from Facebook, which has more than 2.7 billion active users.
But given the way Facebook aggregates information, it’s likely that consumers have been sidetracked from alternative views – views that might have changed their mind if the user had been exposed. Few realize how much Facebook analytics and human monitors restrict, delete, and verify the information they receive.
Facebook is the engine of the news. Yet it was founded in 2004 as a website for Harvard University students to connect. Its founder, Mark Zuckerberg, and his team are computer programmers, not skilled collectors of factual reports.
The fact that Zuckerberg’s invention has become as prominent and ubiquitous as it has been speaks volumes about the public’s respect for mainstream media. Many Americans have abandoned traditional news sources with articles written by experienced and vetted journalists. As Rolling Stone’s Matt Taibbi said, “For those of us in the business, the conquest has been the most infuriating part. The CliffsNotes version? Facebook ate us up.
What kind of news do we receive on social media? Basically, Twitter is full of short personal opinions and gossip. YouTube focuses on individual influencers and videos so consumers can see what happened during, for example, a controversial police check. Video narration, however, is limited to a point in time and does not tell the full story of what happened before the camera was activated.
There has been a flood of complaints from Republicans and Democrats about how social media works and how it has permeated the national psyche. Yet Internet operators enjoy extraordinary legal protections that have enabled sites to reap enormous benefits. In 2019, Facebook’s revenue was $ 70.7 billion.
At the center of upcoming Senate hearings is Section 230 of the Communications Decency Act, which governs Internet speech and was passed in 1996 (when Zuckerberg was only 11 years old). Among other things, Section 230 recognizes social media platforms as “news content providers”, mere channels for distributing outside material, and protects businesses from legal action arising from objectionable posts. . Important: “content providers” are treated differently by law than traditional news “publishers”. Publishers have no general immunity from prosecution.
Critics of the status quo say that since social media sites have now started editing content – much the same way a publisher would – their protections under Section 230 should be removed, allowing thus to the aggrieved parties to institute proceedings.
Liberals complained that internet platforms were too slow to edit, failing to immediately remove revenge pornography, slander, physical threats and harassment. House Speaker Nancy Pelosi has said Section 230 is a “giveaway” for tech companies and warned that it “could be scrapped.”
But the Conservatives have protested the loudest against the discrimination of points of view by the big three – Facebook, Twitter and YouTube.
The most notable Twitter target is President Donald Trump. He has had “content warnings” placed on numerous tweets, including one in June warning that he would not tolerate the creation of an “autonomous zone” in Washington, DC “If they try, they will be faced with a serious force! Twitter said the president’s tweet violated its policy against “abusive behavior.”
YouTube has inexplicably restricted access to more than 200 educational videos by conservative radio talk show host Dennis Prager, saying they “are not suitable for young audiences.” Prager says they are simply educating “people of all ages on America’s founding values.”
Facebook recently deleted a post from Fox News personality Tucker Carlson. He made a connection with her interview with a Chinese virologist who said she could prove that COVID-19 came from a lab in China, not a local market. A Facebook fact checker, probably without specific scientific training, called it “false information” and deleted it.
Conservative TV and radio host Mark Levin also said his Facebook posts were censored.
In June, activist group Project Veritas released an undercover video highlighting a dozen Facebook “content controllers” openly cheering on how they deliberately censored posts supporting Republican ideals. An internal memo has come to light, asking monitors not to suppress a provocative statement by liberal CNN presenter Don Lemon, saying white men are “the greatest terrorist threat in this country.” This kind of statement would generally be suppressed, but African American Lemon got an unexplained “narrow exception”.
There are no laws to protect citizens from media prejudice. With the presidential election approaching and online political maneuvering in high gear, now is the time to check ourselves out. Do we believe what we believe because we read it on Facebook or Twitter? It is best to make sure that the opinions we have are based on facts and not on political manipulation.
Diane Dimond is a national columnist.