The News That’s Fit To Print

No, the Pope didn’t endorse Donald Trump. He didn’t endorse Hillary Clinton either. And there is no newspaper called the Denver Guardian.  None of these things, however, is Mark Zuckerberg’s fault.

There is just one problem with these articles: They were completely fake.

This is not an anomaly: I encountered thousands of such fake stories last year on social media — and so did American voters, 44 percent of whom use Facebook to get news.

If you look closely, with eyes wide open, you might begin to see the problem. If you are one of the 44% of American voters (a highly suspect statistic, since FB users aren’t likely to vote since it requires them to leave the house) who get their “news” interspersed with cute cat pix, that could explain why you are so easily fooled.

Mark Zuckerberg, Facebook’s chief, believes that it is “a pretty crazy idea” that “fake news on Facebook, which is a very small amount of content, influenced the election in any way.” In holding fast to the claim that his company has little effect on how people make up their minds, Mr. Zuckerberg is doing real damage to American democracy — and to the world.

In any other time in history, this paragraph would be delightfully viewed as a ridiculous non-sequitur. But not at this time. You were stupid, so it’s Zuckerberg’s fault? Brilliant. And just as you bought the marlarkey, you’ll buy the illogic, as it shifts blame for your lack of diligence off you and onto someone else. That’s right, dearie, you’re not responsible for anything. It’s that evil Mark’s fault. Have another cookie.

All of this renders preposterous Mr. Zuckerberg’s claim that Facebook, a major conduit for information in our society, has “no influence.”

Of course it’s preposterous to contend that the popular medium has no influence. Its influence is massive because we’ve allowed it to be. By “we,” I mean you, because I don’t Facebook. It’s not that I don’t think it’s a really cool place to hangout for grandmas and 12-year-olds, but because the echo chamber of surrounding yourself with “friends” is deafening.

The problem with Facebook’s influence on political discourse is not limited to the dissemination of fake news. It’s also about echo chambers. The company’s algorithm chooses which updates appear higher up in users’ newsfeeds and which are buried. Humans already tend to cluster among like-minded people and seek news that confirms their biases. Facebook’s research shows that the company’s algorithm encourages this by somewhat prioritizing updates that users find comforting.

But Zuckerberg is running a business, and businesses thrive by giving people what they want. You want to have your bias confirmed? You got it. And go to Amazon and buy something, too!!!

And as the Nigerians figured out decades ago, people can be easily manipulated by appeals to their greed, vanity and, you guessed it, bias.

It’s also why, according to a report in BuzzFeed News, a bunch of young people in a town in Macedonia ran more than a hundred pro-Trump websites full of fake news. Their fabricated article citing anonymous F.B.I. sources claiming Hillary Clinton would be indicted, for example, got more than 140,000 shares on Facebook and may well have been viewed by millions of people since each share is potentially seen by hundreds of users. Even if each view generates only a fraction of a penny, that adds up to serious money.

Create a system, an opportunity, and someone will come up with a way to game it. But just as the 419 scam relies on hysterically misspelled words and grammar, absurdly implausible claims, it’s a test of the intellect of its victims. Yes, it might hurt your feelings to learn that you’re too stupid, too biased, to have passed the test, but failure is a fact of life. Get over it.

There is no justification for the existence of “fake news,” whether it serves your goal or not. It’s fake, and if your goal can’t be achieved legitimately, then it means your goal has issues. Wally Olson sought to make this clear on the twitters, and received some harsh attacks for his efforts. There appears to be a correlation between the degree of insanity suffered by the attacker and the extent of support for fake news. There’s a shock.

The best (only?) argument in favor of fake news is that the mainstream media has chosen to put aside accuracy for a “higher calling”:

So your choice is relegated to fake news that says what you want it to and real news that says what they want it to. Either way, you’re just being fed bullshit. Don’t blame Zuckerberg that you’re being treated like a mushroom. When the “legit” media, those 23-year-olds atop a soapbox to spread their feelz, can rationalize why they’re entitled to use MSM to spew their version of the truth, it’s understandable that people are conflicted by the choice between fake news from fake sites and fake news from real ones.

19 thoughts on “The News That’s Fit To Print

  1. B. McLeod

    In addition to the fake news, FB had the handy racial profiling feature that enabled advertisers to exclude particular ethnicities from seeing their offers of good and services, housing, employment, credit, etc.

  2. Robert

    Now we know why SHG is always so grumpy.

    He doesn’t do FB and is therefore deprived of the soothing effect of all those kitty pics.

  3. Matthew S Wideman

    There is a lot of confirmation bias on Facebook. I always hear of people defriending people who voted for Hillary or Trump. I think it would be wise to keep people who don’t believe what you believe. Talking to people who don’t think like me always adds a little cream to my proverbial coffee.

  4. Jim Tyre

    If you look closely, with eyes wide open, you might begin to see the problem. If you are one of the 44% of American voters (a highly suspect statistic, since FB users aren’t likely to vote since it requires them to leave the house)

    And then you use a tweet.* I guess Twitter is more classy than FB.

    *You call them twits, but Twitter calls them tweets. Who is one to believe?

  5. John Neff

    “Speaking truth to power and elevating the powerless.” are Quaker aspirations that sometimes have not turned out well (solitary confinement for example). Sooner or later the media will find out that fact checking is essential not optional.

    Thank you. I had considered shutting down my facebook account for some time because I was annoyed by all of the unwanted crap and the false reports and your post pushed me out of the dithering mode.

  6. DaveL

    Emma Roller presents a false dichotomy. What journalists should strive for is accuracy and impartiality, which are distinct from both balance and “elevating the powerless” because the bare truth is often unbalanced and often favors the powerful.

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