Arbiters of Truth
As feds and Facebook join forces to rein in ‘fake news’ who will fact check the ‘fact-checkers’?
Facebook is the world’s most powerful social media platform, deemed by one observer as “the biggest nation in the world” with no semblance of democracy. The mass medium’s size and breadth is often obscured by its capacity to interlink 1.8 billion users with their friends and loved ones in the broader context of everyday life. Situated at this primary intersection of human relations one cannot overemphasize the significance of the outlet’s self-appointment as chaperon of public discourse.
By its own admission Facebook is no longer merely a for-profit corporation seeking to inject advertising and commerce into the abundant social interaction it oversees. The entity’s new censorial ventures, loosely masquerading as promotion of “good journalism” and “information you can trust,” strongly suggest combined government and corporate efforts to suppress citizen-generated “alternative” news and analysis.
In the United States alone close to half of the population (44% 2016 Pew Research) receive “at least some of their news” from the social media behemoth, putting Facebook among the nation’s most influential distributors of news. This makes the entity’s actual transition from neutral observer to forthright interventionist aided by often unprincipled, even amateurish news media, a momentous and worrisome political event.
Facebook’s recently-announced “news literacy” and “fact checking” initiatives must be recognized as coming in the wake of two other especially significant and likely uncoincidental developments: 1) corporate media’s recent propaganda campaign highlighting so-called “fake news” and alleged Russian-inspired media seeking to “undermine faith in American democracy,” and 2) US lawmakers’ December 8 passage of the “Countering Disinformation and Propaganda Act” within the 2017 National Defense Authorization Act
The Countering Disinformation and Propaganda Act (CDPA) involves establishment of a “Ministry of Truth” within the US State Department with authority to pursue any news outlet publishing content that contradicts officially-sanctioned information and storylines. With major media led by the Washington Post priming the public to “equate ‘Russian Propaganda’ with ‘fake news'”, ZeroHedge observes,
the US media has indoctrinated the public to assume that any information which is not in compliance with the official government narrative, or dares to criticize the establishment, is also “fake news” and thus falls under the “Russian propaganda” umbrella, the scene is now set for the US government to legally crack down on every media outlet that the government deems to be “foreign propaganda.”
As a dubiously sourced Washington Post article deceptively argued less than three weeks after the US presidential election,
The Russian campaign during this election season worked by harnessing the online world’s fascination with ‘buzzy’ content that is surprising and emotionally potent, and tracks with popular conspiracy theories about how secret forces dictate world events.
Almost as if on cue, within one week of the CDPA’s passage Facebook announced a collaboration with liberal “fact checkers” Snopes.com and Politifact. (In October 2016 independent journalist and intelligence expert Wayne Madsen explained how Snopes is a CIA disinformation website.) Facebook also tapped the Associated Press and Disney Corporation’s ABC News to “combat fake news” that purportedly tilted the presidential election in Donald Trump’s favor. The program is overseen by the Poynter Institute and even touts a “fact checkers’ code of principles.”
Shortly after Facebook and Poynter unveiled the initiative, alternative outlets (e.g. here, here, and here) pointed to how it received funding from the likes of George Soros and Bill Gates, thus violating its own first principle, “Commitment to non-partisanship and fairness.”
Compounding this effort to “stamp out misinformation on the main news feed” Facebook is now joining forces with the Washington Post, Buzzfeed, and FoxNews–companies that, as suggested above, have been substantial purveyors of often intentionally misleading and politically-motivated reportage. “The goal of the ‘Facebook Journalism Project'” the Wall Street Journal reports, “‘is to give users information that you can trust,’ said Fidji Simo, director of product for Facebook. ‘We care about it from the standpoint that people want to be informed.'”
Facebook has been reluctant to present itself as a media outlet, opting instead to be recognized as a “neutral technology platform.” Chief Executive Mark Zuckerberg has famously remarked that “he is wary of Facebook becoming ‘arbiters of truth.'” Simo likewise argues that the “goal” of company’s newfound penchant for “news literacy” “isn’t to tell people what they should and shouldn’t read.” Yet this appears to be Facebook’s exact goal, rolled out in tandem with corporate media’s dubious “fake news” meme.
These censorial practices are presently moving abroad, signaled by Obama’s November 2016 Berlin plea for European leaders to confront “fake news.” Exhibiting feigned concern to protect an unwitting public from “misinformation” can prove immensely advantageous to European political leaders already under fire on issues including the economy and immigration. For example, Italian Prime Minister Matteo Renzi might strengthen his hand hurling accusations of “fake news” to justify a crack down on media favorable to his party’s most formidable political opponent, the Five Star Movement. As Laura Bodlrini, speaker of Italy’s lower house of parliament remarked before a November 30 meeting with Facebook executives,”Fake news is a critical issue and we can’t ignore it. We have to act now.”
And with the German government’s proposal to impose fines of as much as €500,000 on the social media giant for distributing “hoaxes” and “fake news,” Facebook is already scrambling to deploy its fact checking apparatus there, the Financial Times reports. Like her US and Italian counterparts, German chancellor Angela Merkel “has warned there are signs that online attacks and misinformation coming from Russia could ‘play a role in the election campaign.’” Along these lines Heiko Maas, Germany’s foremost magistrate, cautions how “fake news” poses a “danger to our culture of debate,” and has threatened prison terms of up to five years for potential violators.
One may be well served to note how such thought control efforts are the most recent chapter in a long-running discussion among governing elites on how to subdue alternative media. In 2013, for example, after various independent sites burst forth with critical analysis of the Sandy Hook massacre and Boston Marathon bombing events, veteran US Democratic Senator Diane Feinstein floated unconstitutional legislation seeking to classify journalists and deny non-salaried reporters necessary legal protections for their publications.
In this vein Cass Sunstein, among President Obama’s closest confidantes and erstwhile head of the Office of Information and Regulatory Affairs, recommended direct government intervention and co-opting of political movements and their online communities (“cognitive infiltration”) to counter factual reportage and analysis of public events (“conspiracy theories”). Sunstein’s proposals, which included “sending covert agents into ‘chat rooms, online social networks, or even real-space groups,'” were digital age versions of classic 1960s FBI COINTELPRO, so extreme that even liberal sites such as Salon.com described them as “spine-chilling.” Many independent authors attempting to maintain blogs and other media will attest to how such maneuvers are presently in full force.
Sunstein’s 2009 volume, On Rumors, was deemed “a blueprint for online censorship” upon its release. In that slim volume the Harvard law professor advocated making blogs and web hosting companies liable for the remarks of commenters and altering libel law to pave the way for lawsuits against to curtail “rumors.”
With the combined efforts of federal authorities, corporate media and Facebook the “crippled epistemologies” decried by Sunstein and like-minded technocrats will at long last be shown the rear seat of the news bus. Augmenting the government’s Orwellian Countering Disinformation and Propaganda Act, Facebook’s ambitious content management plan effectively operationalizes a form of censorship in which the work of salaried journalists (e.g. those responsive to middle management [editors] and the agenda of powerful, politically-connected boards of directors and owners) will be privileged over independent authors whose writing runs the risk of being flagged as “misinformation” or “fake news” by corporate and foundation-funded censors.
In considering the above challenges, one may ponder how the interpretation of future complex events–terrorist attacks, mass shootings, political assassinations, and waging war–will take shape in the public mind and historical record. Since the beginning of the so-called “war on terror” in 2001 online alternative media have been the foremost means by which the bona fide unreality of government propaganda and fake news can be at least partly contested.
The body politic is enslaved to the extent that it allows reality to be determined by those who would manipulate government and popular sentiment to move toward undisclosed and predetermined ends. In this way the debate over truth and falsity necessarily involves the question of sanity itself; a sane society can distinguish and articulate its own interests only when grounded in historical reality. By linking past issues and events to their present context it is empowered to forge its own narrative.
The campaign against “fake news” should come as little surprise, for it is being waged by the very elite interests that have long utilized the state to enforce belief in an array of areas through bamboozle and subterfuge –from the phony debt-driven financial sector to the array of dangerous substances offered as medicine and food. While sometimes cacophonous, alternative media provide a means to reassert such autonomy through meaningful analysis. Contrary to the notions of those who would deem themselves arbiters of truth now backed by the full force of the state, an informed and engaged public is more than capable of discerning truth from falsity.
Posted on January 17, 2017, in Home and tagged alternative media, Cass Sunstein, censorship, cognitive dissonance, Countering Disinformation and Propaganda Act, Facebook, fake news, media monopoly, Obama administration, propaganda, Washington Post. Bookmark the permalink. 2 Comments.