Sorkin To His Choir: Blame Facebook And Free Speech

It’s one thing for Aaron Sorkin to alter probably the most important American novel ever written so he could put on a play of woke tropes that would have made Harper Lee cry if it didn’t kill her. But he’s now putting his not-insignificant skill at manipulating the unwary toward undermining the First Amendment in the name of his “truth.”

By the gimmick of a faux open letter to Facebook’s Mark Zuckerberg, published in the New York Times, Sorkin spins a curiously hypocritical yarn.

It was hard not to feel the irony while I was reading excerpts from your recent speech at Georgetown University, in which you defended — on free speech grounds — Facebook’s practice of posting demonstrably false ads from political candidates. I admire your deep belief in free speech. I get a lot of use out of the First Amendment. Most important, it’s a bedrock of our democracy and it needs to be kept strong.

Sorkin goes on to detail his efforts, in making “The Social Network,” to avoid being sued for defamation. Zuck’s speech at Georgetown isn’t the point; the First Amendment is neither better nor worse because of anything Zuck says. But defamation is an exception to the First Amendment, and the duty not to defame isn’t at issue in Facebook’s, in Zuck’s, refusal to play censor-in-chief, or as Sorkin would prefer to color it, defender of the truth, for America.

The law hasn’t been written yet — yet — that holds carriers of user-generated internet content responsible for the user-generated content they carry, just like movie studios, television networks and book, magazine and newspaper publishers. Ask Peter Thiel, who funded a defamation suit against Gawker that bankrupted the site and forced it to close down. (You should have Mr. Thiel’s number in your phone because he was an early investor in Facebook.)

The comparison between internet platforms, the delivery mechanisms for user-generated content, that movie studios that are integral to the creation of, and direct profit-participants in, the specific content they choose, direct, produce and create, is a nonsensical one. One might figure that Sorkin is a bright fellow and grasps this distinction, so his conflating it here suggests he knows that this is a false comparison and yet makes it anyway for the purpose of manipulating the groundlings to his team.

As for his use of the Gawker suit, one that would have never passed muster but for the bizarre and fortuitous circumstances of a state judge bent on ignoring all known First Amendment law and requiring bonding of an outrageously huge judgment before appeal, this argument reveals the emptiness of Sorkin’s game to anyone remotely familiar with First Amendment law. That would leave out most people, of course, and that’s whom Sorkin is trying to play, the adoring masses of the passionately ignorant.

Most people don’t have the resources to employ a battalion of fact checkers. Nonetheless, while testifying before a congressional committee two weeks ago, Representative Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez asked you the following: “Do you see a potential problem here with a complete lack of fact-checking on political advertisements?” Then, when she pushed you further, asking you if Facebook would or would not take down lies, you answered: “Congresswoman, in most cases, in a democracy, I believe people should be able to see for themselves what politicians they may or may not vote for are saying and judge their character for themselves.”

Sorkin marks his territory. Zuck has tons of money, enough if he uses it the way Sorkin would want him to spend it, to employ a battalion of fact checkers. Sorkin sees no problem telling Zuck how to spend his money, and no doubt justifies it as being for the good of society. Granted, his version of societal good, but still for the good.

This aspect of Sorkin’s argument is easy to miss, that it’s not only fair and right that successful people give back for the sake of others, a laudable goal in itself. And if it’s generally a good thing, it’s therefore good to demand they do so, and then demand they pick the societal good others, like Sorkin, tell them are good. Or else.

But Sorkin’s note of AOC’s question isn’t mere happenstance. AOC believes her truth and anything that isn’t her truth is a lie. Doesn’t Zuck see a problem with spreading information that isn’t AOC’s truth, Sorkin’s truth, the truth? Sorkin closes with a tricky non sequitur.

Now you tell me. If I’d known you felt that way, I’d have had the Winklevoss twins invent Facebook.

If Sorkin had deliberately lied, that would be on Sorkin, not that he seems all that concerned about it beyond being sued. And if some other entity lies on Facebook, they too could be sued, just like Sorkin. But that wouldn’t solve Sorkin’s problem, which is why Sorkin’s entire argument is a sham.

Sorkin’s polemic isn’t about the bad people who spread lies, and there is absolutely no doubt that there are bad people and there are lies being spread. It’s about compelling a private company to put its resources to work to be his Truth Police.

Zuck’s reply to AOC may be less than satisfying. After all, people are more inclined toward confirmation bias than vetting claims for accuracy that fail to comport with their views. Then again, that’s the nature of a democracy, where people get to vote no matter how wrong Sorkin believes they are. Of course, to Sorkin, they would vote “smarter” if they were fed his team’s lies rather than the other team’s lies, and since his team is the good team, all would be well if only Facebook would accede to his demand to being his censor.

Should Facebook decide what is political truth? What if Zuck agreed completely with Sorkin, but put his battalion to work ripping the lies of the left to shred? Better still, how about Facebook not be the thought cops at all, even if this means that we’re fed a diet of lies by our warring factions, because neither Zuckerberg nor Facebook should be in charge of deciding what is truth?

Ironically, if Zuck decided to take Sorkin up on his demand, does it occur to Sorkin that the lies denied airing might be his? He surely hasn’t won Zuck’s heart by this gimmick, and while there are some wild lies being told on the right, akin to the Winklevoss twins inventing Facebook, the left has some tales to tell that strain reality as well.

Facebook’s refusal to play the social justice Truth Police won’t please the guy who bastardized To Kill a Mockingbird to make it more relevant to social justice ticket buyers. But then, how dare Harper Lee lie by making Atticus the defender of a falsely accused black man and be complicit in not believing the woman?

10 thoughts on “Sorkin To His Choir: Blame Facebook And Free Speech

  1. Jay

    Get off your soapbox Nero. It’s not 1789, it’s not even 1999. Using algorithms to feed the masses lies is a recipe for societal collapse that we’re currently experiencing in real time. If you’re too old to understand it, find something else to do. No one is listening to you but Trump.

    1. Dan

      I think I sprained by brain trying to understand what you’re saying–does it have anything to do with what SHG posted?

  2. B. McLeod

    Politicians and their supporters have traditionally played fast and loose with their public statements. Slanted attack ads are as old as the country, probably even older. There is an anecdote that Lyndon Johnson, when advised by a staffer that he could not say an opposing candidate had sex with pigs, responded, “Maybe not, but I’ll bet we can make the son of a bitch deny it.” Algorithms and computers may enable liars to lie to more people faster, but they don’t support changing the basic rules or treating online platforms as something different from billboards or newspapers. At the end of the day, society has to depend on the ability of its members to separate the shit from the shinola, and if that isn’t there, it makes no difference how the shit and shinola are being pitched.

  3. Jake

    If the legislature passed a law barring the publication of non-factual information in political ads, could it survive constitutional scrutiny?

      1. Jake

        I question the truth of your reply, given the FTC has broad powers to fight misleading advertisements in every other category besides politics.

  4. Fubar

    … Zuck has tons of money, enough if he uses it the way Sorkin would want him to spend it, to employ a battalion of fact checkers. Sorkin sees no problem telling Zuck how to spend his money, …

    I have a better way for Zuck to spend tons of money, of which I think Mr. Barleycorn will approve.

    Serve every fakebook user unlimited quantities of my patented truth serum.¹

    Long ago, in my own mipspent² youth,
    I invented a serum for truth.
    It consists just of gin,
    In a glass or a tin,
    And, for flavor, a splash of vermouth!

    FN 1: If evidence shows he isn’t doing that already.

    FN 2: I haz nevar benn acussed off gud tast or splelling.

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