Realist, not conformist analysis of the latest financial, business and political news

That Problem With Facebook’s Fake News Campaign

As I’ve indicated before we’ve a problem with these various campaigns – YouTube and Facebook come to mind – against fake news. The campaigns which lead to certain views and assertions being flagged as fake and thus not linked to or even taken down. The problem being, well, what is fake news? More importantly even, who gets to decide and upon what grounds?

OK, sure, Hills is running a kiddie fiddling ring in a pizzeria in DC. We’re all fine with that being identified as fake. But then should all such allegations be so marked? That wrestling coach was actually kiddie fiddling, wasn’t he?

Or to be ridiculous, in 1940 claiming that the continents float around the globe would have been fake news. By 1960 it was standard orthodoxy. At which point did it move from fake, not to be mentioned, to those claiming it untrue were to be ignored? But then that’s factual science stuff. What about truth in what ought to be? Which is pretty much all of societal relationships:

Facebook has been accused of censorship after links to the website of a feminist campaign group who are concerned about plans to allow transgender people to “self-identify” as women were blocked.

The social media giant temporarily prevented users from visiting and sharing Women’s Place UK’s website, saying it was for users’ “safety” as the site was “malicious”.

The links were restored within a few hours following complaints from several users.

The way the system works is that lots of people complain about a site, view or story. The tech giants then ban or redirect or whatever. Only if there are complaints back does it all get reversed. All of which gives any groupuscule with a grudge – which is all of them, perhaps the definition of groupuscule – the ability to censor views they disapprove of.

Some people do think simple self-declaration – without say extensive hormonal treatment, or surgery – isn’t enough. Others think that to deny simple self-declaration as being enough is a terrible violation of the most basic human rights. So, some who think one way have complained to have those who think the other delinked. And this is going on, will go on, all the time about everything which is fine if it’s people shouting at each other and we get to consider and choose. It’s when there’s an imposition of an orthodoxy that we’ve a problem.

That there’s even the discussion shows that we’ve solved all the more immediate and important questions but still. Our problem is, well, who gets to decide what is fake news?

So what is fake news, and what is truth? Damore said something factually and scientifically true. The vast majority of the media decided it was false and labeled it so, and Damore got fired. The same company that fired Damore using the consensus of the media’s position to determine the truth is an amusing little coda to that, isn’t it?

The only way to really deal with this suppression of impolite, impolitic ideas is to learn that lesson of the First Amendment all over again. Everybody gets to say anything, and it’s up to us out here, adults and free people as we are, to sort out what’s true and what isn’t. Any system which suppresses the news is also going to end up enforcing, not challenging, current misconceptions that are widely believed. That journalism itself is so hugely biased as to cultural outlook just makes this worse, it doesn’t cause the basic problem in the first place.

Sure, Facebook is working on it:

We know people want to see accurate information on Facebook – and so do we.
False news is harmful to our community, it makes the world less informed, and it erodes trust. It’s not a new phenomenon, and all of us — tech companies, media companies, newsrooms, teachers — have a responsibility to do our part in addressing it. At Facebook, we’re working to fight the spread of false news

Our problem is, well, who decides what is fake? As I muttered some time ago:

And closer to home here think of the UK Uncut saga. The story about Vodafone and the £6 billion tax bill. There never was such a bill, there was no deal to cut it and yet that isn’t what our media has been telling us, is it? Richard Brooks, the originator of the story in Private Eye, has actually explained to us how the figure was reached. If tax law was different then more money would have been owed. We’re sure that’s true but there’s a certain promulgation of not quite an entire and whole truth to move from that to an insistence that £6 billion was owed, no? Or the campaign about Boot’s tax avoidance, something they achieved while obeying every jot and tittle of the law about what people should not do to avoid tax.

At least one of the perpetrators of that little, umm, piece of truthiness, has openly agreed that it was all about creating the narrative, exact details were not the point.

Or even the continued wails that inequality is rising to unprecedented levels. Global inequality is falling and within country inequality is nothing at all like the levels of the historical past – we’ve welfare systems explicitly designed to make sure that it isn’t. The spread of food banks – is this evidence, as claimed, of massive need? Or evidence of an always extant need now finally being met?

We’re going on a length here because this is an important issue. Yes, indeed, there is fake news out there. But what is going to be uncomfortable for a lot of those complaining about it is that a close examination of “truth” is going to leave an awful lot of supposedly established facts about our modern world looking terribly exposed.

Any system of filtering the news is going to end up being what is already happening with these gender monomaniacs:

The war against fake news is really just “ban those bastards over there” isn’t it?

That’s just the way human beings work. A system, any system, which allows the silencing of certain voices means that those doing the silencing will impose their values and desires upon what is being said unsilenced. And there ain’t nobody we all agree with all the time, nor anyone with a monopoly of the truth – nor even a monopoly of the not-fake.

As usual, The Romans had something for this. Not because they were the first with the wisdom to think it up but because they’re among the first to have the writing to pass it down to us. “Quis custodiet ipsos custodies?” Or perhaps who will protect us from the bias of the censors?

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5 years ago

Dr. Jose Duarte, a social psychologist and all-round sensible chap has an interesting piece on fact-checking on Medium:

Apparently, AP is not even trying to be even handed. Quelle surprise!

5 years ago

The LGBT movement has gone beyond seeking equity and is now firmly in the realm of “imposing orthodoxy,” notably, that anyone pretending to be something “they” are not deserves the approval and participation of all bystanders, immunity from criticism, and equal results (even when that Google employee who surgically modified himself because he fancies himself a dragon now wants to be a car salesman). This campaign cannot withstand the disapproval of others and cannot tolerate a medium in which all opinions can be expressed.

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