Matt Taibbi on Facebook and Google Playing the Censor

Yves here. I’m glad to see Taibbi speaking out in this Real News Network interview on this issue of growing censorship by Facebook and Google and hope that more journalists join him. With the help of so many of your readers sharing our post and encouraging your friends and family members to check us out, we’ve managed to stay on an even keel, while other “deemed to be leftie” sites have taken a traffic hit due to Google downgrading non-MSM sites greatly in their search rankings. Even the Intercept, hardly a blog-scale operation, got whacked.

MARC STEINER: Welcome to The Real News Network, everybody. This is Marc Steiner. Great to have you all with us.

As you know, we spoke recently with Nadine Strossen from the ACLU about the dangerous slippery slope we find ourselves on. But not only cheering on the fact that Facebook shut down the vile Alex Jones, but more importantly, not understanding the danger that that poses for all of us. And more to the point, to the civil liberties that we all seem to cherish. The platforms like Google and Facebook are where many of us increasingly get all of our information. We talk to our friends and family. We use it as a public space. But they and all the digital media that we use don’t belong to us. They’re private entities that are now making a regular habit of banning images and words for a variety of both nebulous and extremely dangerous reasons, or potentially dangerous reasons. Facebook and others are also teaming up with some pretty shady characters and businesses as they develop a new model of censorship. That should give us all pause.

One of the people writing about this a great deal is journalist and writer Matt Taibbi, who has been writing about all this in the Rolling Stone and many other places. We’re going to focus on the articles he’s been doing for Rolling Stone. And Matt, welcome, good to have you here on The Real News.

MATT TAIBBI: Thanks for having me, Marc.

MARC STEINER: I said before we started, this is a really dangerous piece we’re looking at. I mean, the pieces we’ve done so far on this can almost make it seem arbitrary, being done by technocrats or technology that are unseen by all of us. But what you’re implying and writing about, it goes a great deal deeper than that.

MATT TAIBBI: Yeah, I think the really, the wakeup call for me was the news that Facebook announced a partnership with a group called the Atlantic Council. Which is essentially sort of a NATO-backed think tank. If you look at its board it’s packed with ex-security state officials; people like Henry Kissinger and Michael Morrell, the former acting CIA Director Michael Hayden. It’s a quasi-governmental agency that sees itself essentially as a sort of government in exile. It imagines itself as the sort of watchdog that would have existed had Hillary Clinton won the presidency.

And Facebook has been working in conjunction with the Atlantic Council for some time now. They’ve also been consulting with Congress, and apparently also some White House officials to police what they call ‘inauthentic content,’ which theoretically means that they’re deleting fake news accounts. But it could mean more than that. And we’re not exactly sure what the methodology is. And that’s very scary, and has very serious First Amendment implications.

MARC STEINER: Let’s talk about this ‘inauthentic content.’ One of the things that bothered me a great deal as I was reading your pieces were that some of the more liberal Democratic members of the United States Congress, senator Mazie Hirono of Hawaii, and Murphy of Connecticut, were pushing this because they wanted to shut down what they called Russian disinformation that was taking place on Facebook and other parts of the digital world. And the danger is using that as an excuse to go even deeper. I mean, that to me is a real- I mean, a disconnect. Question is, is there a disconnect between folks like that in Congress who don’t really understand the depth of this, what censorship means? Or do they? There’s a real, it’s a conundrum here.

MATT TAIBBI: It’s really, it’s kind of an amazing moment in the history of media in this country, and it seems to have kind of slipped past the attention of elected officials and the media. We’ve never really had an aggressive media regulator in the United States. Of course we’ve had the FCC, but they’ve never really been intrusive to an enormous degree. Certainly not on the level of political content.

And what we have here is a sort of two-stage story. The first stage of the story happened over the course of the past few decades, when Google and Facebook essentially became a duopoly in terms of media distribution in this country. They control somewhere between 70 and 75 percent of the media distribution. That means most people get their news from one of those two sources. So if you control Google and Facebook, and they’re allowed to decide who gets in the feed and who gets deemphasized, then you can really control the media. And so the idea that they’re working with governmental bodies to push some content down and push others up is unbelievable. It’s a situation that we’ve never had a parallel to in this country before.

MARC STEINER:And as you point out in your article, Facebook has 2.2 billion users. One million people at any given time in the course of a day. So can you describe- I mean, how do they even begin to do this? I mean, how did they begin to censor things? People know the name of Alex Jones, and while he may be despicable, throwing him off, you know, everybody is next. But I mean, how do they do it if they have so many users? How can they hone in at all?

MATT TAIBBI:You know, I talked to a former Facebook employees including some people who were actually involved in this process of what they call ‘content integrity.’ And you know, again, the sheer quantity of content is too big for human beings to watch. More than a billion pieces of content a day. So most of it is flagged by machines. What they’re looking for, you know, skin tones for, you know, obscenity or pornography. Certain keywords for abusive language. And then what happens is the automatic sensors will flag material, and then it will go to a human being for review.

The problem with this is that they’re now starting to review not just for obscenity or pornography, but also for political content. And you know, we saw the beginnings of what could be a problem a couple of years ago when they deleted the iconic image of the napalm girl in Vietnam. And now we’re seeing wholesale deletions of political accounts in countries all over the world. You know, 10,000 accounts got wiped out ahead of Mexican elections on July 1. We have hundreds of accounts in Brazil wiped out. And we don’t know exactly what criteria they’re using to delete some of these accounts, and I think that’s the problem, is that it’s not transparent. So yeah, we’ve never had a media regulator, and that’s one problem. But we’ve also always had transparency in the courts when we punish people for that speech. We don’t have that either, now.

MARC STEINER: And you were referring earlier that that photograph, the iconic logo of Kim Phuc, who is the young girl who was hit by napalm running down the street naked. And they didn’t want naked images of children, so they took that off of Facebook.

MATT TAIBBI: Right, yeah, exactly. And as the person I talked to pointed out, the algorithm doesn’t know that that’s iconic journalism. So they wipe it out. The concern would be is that they’re going to start looking at content like that and painting with a broader brush what their idea of abusive language is, what hateful content is, what inauthentic content is. All these things can be used to to remove smaller media from these platforms without too much backlash, and that’s what we’re really worried about.

MARC STEINER:But is it all technology? I mean, when you, when you go after Alex Jones, when you go after Venezuelanalysis, when all of the, what I’ve been reading in the media from all of the kinds of pages by Black Lives Matter activists and other people who have been fighting against racism, and those folks have their pages either temporarily or permanently deleted. I mean, is that, is that technology? Is that an algorithm? Or are those people?

MATT TAIBBI:No, and again, this is the problem. The company, of course, is wholly unsuited for the task of monitoring and sifting through content to decide what is, what is real news and what isn’t. They’re not a news organization. They’ve never really claimed to be. In fact, they’ve aggressively- you know, Facebook, up until a year and a half ago, was openly saying that’s not what we do. We are not editors. We don’t sift through content. So inevitably what’s going to happen is they’re going to appeal to an outside body for help in sifting through all this material, and that’s where you have this issue of their cooperating with something like the Atlantic Council in the United States, or you have a situation like in China, where Google is cooperating with the Chinese government to maybe sift out content there. The Israeli government is also working with both of these companies. That’s where you have the problem. These are not news organizations. They don’t have the traditional urge to be separate from governments the way that news organizations do. They want to work with the governments, and that’s, that’s a serious problem.

MARC STEINER: It’s a very dangerous problem. And let me pull out some of that from what you were just saying, which you also wrote in your articles. When you quoted Mark Zuckerberg in 2016, saying editing content, that’s not us, right. So what, what changed in Zuckerberg? Was it his fear of the government? Was it his desire to cooperate with government entities? I mean, what do you think was the dynamic that moved all this around.

MATT TAIBBI: I don’t think there’s a whole lot of mystery there. After the fake news scandal and the associated controversy with the 2016 election, the Internet platforms were all hauled before Congress last year in groups. And individually, Zuckerberg appeared before the Senate last year. All these companies saw sharp drops in share price ahead of their meetings with legislators on the Hill because investors were afraid of increased regulation. And essentially what the people on the Hill said to these companies was we want you to draw up a plan to help prevent the sowing of discord. And the implied threat was if you don’t, we’re going to increase the amount of regulation on these firms. And so yes, they’re agreeing, they’re acceding to the request of the government to be more involved in this filtration process, because they don’t want to be regulated. They don’t want to be taxed. They don’t want to have greater oversight.

So unlike a news organization, which would vehemently resist any call by the government to be involved in what they do, these platforms are likely just going to roll over, because it has nothing to do with their commercial model whether they produce good journalism or not.

MARC STEINER:So what does your investigative sense say to you about what this has to do with the Atlantic Council? I mean, in a sense there is this kind of conflict going on between the U.S. government and Russia, and much of NATO and Russia. And this seems to be playing into it. And you talked about who the Atlantic Council was, and how many of them come out of NATO and out of the CIA. So I mean, what- I mean, not that you can make suppositions you don’t have facts about. But what do you think the dynamic may be, or what’s it pointing to?

MATT TAIBBI:Well, look, if the United States government had an open contract with Facebook, then it would be a clear First Amendment violation. So it can’t be done in that way. The way it’s done now, if you have a private organization- and the Atlantic Council still is that, technically- working with that other private organization, which Facebook is, which Google is, which Twitter is, then there’s no First Amendment issue. Technically, at least not yet, because the First Amendment only speaks to the government suppressing or regulating speech. If it’s done on private property they can get around that entire issue. And that’s my concern with this, is that this is really an end run around the First Amendment. You take a bunch of quasi-governmental ideas and you have them work with these duopolistic corporations, and you’re essentially controlling the flow of information. You know, perhaps on some legitimate national security grounds. But there’s a huge potential for abuse there as well.

MARC STEINER: And so again, let me come back to something else you wrote about, which has to do with Israel and China, and those two countries kind of leaning on Facebook and Google to do their will, whether it’s in Israel to censor Palestinian activists, or whether it’s China just to be able to watch what goes on, and make sure that they’re censoring the activity, they don’t want somebody there. But this is almost in some senses- maybe I’m being really overly paranoid here.

MATT TAIBBI: No, you’re- I don’t think you are.

MARC STEINER: I mean, just, that this is great training ground for how to control things.

MATT TAIBBI: Well, right. I mean, this, this is the concern, right, is that you have these companies that are making an enormous amount of money. Their entire business model that based upon volume, and getting as many people onto their platforms as possible, talking as much as possible, giving the companies as much information as possible so they can be targets for advertising. The business model for them does not rely upon them being a trusted source for media, or for protecting their First Amendment rights. So for them to get into markets like China, or in other politically perhaps not completely free countries as well- I mean, one could argue about Israel, but they have more or less an open relationship with the Israeli national security agencies as well. You know, that’s what’s troubling, is you have these platforms that have a history of cooperating with governments that don’t really have any concern about speech rights.

And now we see the same kind of cooperation perhaps taking place in the United States. And we never had a public conversation about this. And I think that’s that’s what’s really troubling, is that this could happen in a flash. We could have a, you know, essentially a government censorship body, or something like that, without ever having talked about it. And that’s a real problem.

MARC STEINER: Well, Matt Taibbi, I really look forward to watching what you unfold next, and having more and more in-depth conversations. I appreciate the writing you’ve been doing and the investigative work you’ve been doing, as you’ve always done. Thank you so much for that, and I look forward to our conversation again soon.

MATT TAIBBI: Thanks very much, Marc. Take care.

MARC STEINER: And I’m Marc Steiner for The Real News Network. Thank you so much for watching. We will be covering this in greater depth. Take care.

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39 comments

  1. Ape

    The Big Three TV and radio networks acted as media content regulators for many decades. We’re now seeing a return to “normal” in the US – a controlled but distributed media. Much more homogenous than recently but possibly some higher quality content within that narrow range – less rasslin’ but also fewer dissidents.

    They can afford to stop distracting with clowns if they can manage the conversation.

    Reply
    1. Webstir

      The big three also maintained a level of cultural literacy in this country. A rosetta stone of sorts for what the masses believed to be fact or fiction.

      Those days are gone.

      Reply
  2. Loneprotester

    I watched this yesterday and it scared the pants off of me. Taibbi is like the last honest man standing in a once-proud tradition of honest, thoughtful, left wing journalism. I was thinking just the other day how much I miss Christopher Hitchens. How different was The Atlantic ten years ago. Fifteen.

    It’s a dangerous, fragmented moment. Libertarian-right and civil rights-left must join forces. No one under 25 really understands the old landscape in which the press fought for its independence and professionals were paid for their writing, not their clicks.

    75% of news is absorbed from these platforms. That is staggering. Forget Russia, how does democracy survive that?

    Reply
      1. JTMcPhee

        “Don’t use Facebook (to get your news, at least).” Good advice, not taken by the vast majority of people lured by endorphins to keep on drinking from a poisoned well.

        Seems to me that short of some major “sytstem collapse,” the Borg have us all in their thrall. All those people who get up in the morning, brush their teeth and comb their hair, then go off to collect their pretty meager pay to add one more nail to the coffin lid in which “individual (natural-person) rights” are being interred. Each little increment of “smartness” added by people who are all on board with the ‘business model” that now embraces that complete symbiosis between corp and gov makes the stuff that Orwell laid out the plan for back in the day — hey, it all adds up over time, doesn’t it? And what horror for those of us who grew up thinking the kinds of hopeful thoughts that Taibbi still seems to have salted away — he is being so careful in his styling, despite what one would think he might have learned from observing and perceiving the evil in so many different areas of the system, “not to get out in front of his facts.” When it’s pretty clear what the vector is. Maybe he is feeling the same weltanschauung that Thomas Frank is feeling — he’s figured out, from touching enough parts of the elephant, what the whole elephant looks like. And does not want to end up like that old joke — “Q: What’s the gooey stuff between elephants’ toes? A: Humans not agile enough to get out from under.”

        Look what our mythology tells us happened to Prometheus…

        Anyone have any idea what the end game “vision” is for the folks who are driving all this?

        Real wealth, as humans unfortunately value things, comes from labor applied to resources, which then get monetized. When everyone is getting paid coolie wages (or like carceral-state prisoners, nothing, or almost nothing), when people are dying off wholesale because of “business models” that are all about shedding externalities into the Commons and looting to the last dollar, what kind of “tide” are the Rulers going to be floating their boats on?

        But of course the group mind of the Borgblob does not give a $hit about endpoints, because each member of it likely believes the collapse won’t happen until they are dead and buried. “Apres nous le deluge,” and all that.

        One wonders about Kissinger: will he go to his grave satisfied that he has wielded such a huge club and knocked down and crushed so many millions over so many years? That he somehow worked himself into such a position of power? And the others — what drives them? And is any other path possible for our misbegotten species?

        Reply
      2. Partyless Poster

        +1
        People seem to forget no one is forcing you to use it.
        When most companies do something horrible ie: Monsanto, then we try to boycott the products, when FB does something horrible people think “I’ll start a Facebook group”
        You cant fight it and feed it at the same time.

        Reply
      3. Loneprotester

        Ah, but I never have (nor, I would guess, does anyone commenting on this fine site).

        Yet 70-75% of my fellow Americans do. And many of them now believe Russians are trying to manipulate them. So politicians and “thought-leaders” have insisted that these dumb as dirt platforms now go into the censorship business. And so, here we are, three removes from the original “crime” which is undue concentration of the product (news). All for the sake of keeping eyeballs inside the paying tent, FB has prevented the news-purveyors from making an honest living. Now they are forced to spew up clickbait for the masses. This makes the product itself poison.

        But it is only when the poison product is displayed on the now (badly) censored platform, in partnership with partisan “former” spooks, that we have the truly dangerous situation we face today.

        So my participation in the FB charade is irrelevant. It is the weight of the collective inanities that threaten to undermine everything. We either fix it, or we all lose.

        Reply
        1. Elizabeth Burton

          You’d be wrong. I, for one, remain highly active on social media, mostly on Facebook with ties to Twitter and others. Part of it is for my business, for which social media is the print advertising of the era. However, I also have a group on which I post (and moderate posts of) news from alternative sources, including NC.

          I take exception to the statement 75% of the population gets its news from Facebook. They may get news from there, but in my observation most of them are actually addicted to the major news media: MSNBC, CNN, WaPo, NYT et al. At least, those are the sources for the links they post. That 75% thing suggest to me a propaganda effort to justify the very censorship we’re discussing—all those people have to be protected from all that nasty disinformation from Russia and Iran and Jimmy Dore and Lee Campbell.

          You simply cannot trust the corporate media or the tech industry or the government, because from what I see they are now collaborating on ensuring the only message anyone gets is the one that will keep the neoliberal oligarchy running smoothly. And anyone who wants to change that, and whose solution is to tell everyone to avoid social media as if there’s some superior method of reaching people outside the triumvirate, is living in a very comfortable bubble.

          Reply
    1. Carolinian

      Actually most people, including our president, probably get their news from television. Facebook and Google doing censorship is a very bad thing but let’s not get carried away. The real problem is consolidation in the print and TV space so that everything is controlled by a few billionaires. They are the reason someone like Stephen Cohen can rarely be seen on the medium that really matters–television.

      Those with the curiosity to seek out the truth will always find a way to do so. That is, after all, why some of us are at websites like this one.

      Reply
      1. JTMcPhee

        Sadly, not enough of us are here to constitute an effective “majority” and drive Policy. But we can hope others will join us?

        Reply
      2. WheresOurTeddy

        a television is an entertainment device intended for diversion, and any content that exits from it should be treated as such

        always remember: The News ™ is rich people convincing middle class people that poor people are the problem

        Reply
        1. JTMcPhee

          Rather a blasé view of what “a television” is. It’s a device to pour propaganda into your brain, every minute of every day on every channel. Every effing TV show and the “news” and the rest of the content is propagating one or another bit of the Narrative. From “24” to “The Price Is Right,” all selling a set of notions that are walking us over a cliff.

          And “we” do not have, as a general rule, any but the tiniest resistance to the messages that the Acolytes and Priests and Bishops of St. Bernays are insinuating into our eyes and ears…

          Reply
    2. norm de plume

      I was with you til ‘I was thinking just the other day how much I miss Christopher Hitchens’

      To be fair, I do miss the pre-neocon Hitchens – when the brisk, lethal acerbity was directed at worthier targets.

      Reply
    3. Jason

      Trump has ensured that no significant part of the left will not join forces with anyone on the right, libertarian or otherwise, for decades.

      I still find myself wondering if that isn’t his job: To discredit and alienate populist and anti-establishment forces. And to make many who would otherwise lean away from the establishment grateful for it.

      Reply
    4. Pelham

      It bears repeating that equal application of laws governing communications would put Google, Facebook and the whole social media bunch out of business. Since they manipulate the content they carry, they are no longer platforms but publishers — every bit as much as newspapers or other print publications. Newspapers are entirely responsible and legally liable for every jot of information they publish; Facebook et al apparently are not but must be held to the same standard.

      As noted on NakedCapitalism many times, the principal value proposition and business model of so many of these Internet behemoths is built on simply breaking the law. Hence Airbnb needn’t comply with standards governing hotels, Uber needn’t comply with regulations governing taxi services and even Amazon has largely avoided paying sales taxes.

      Simple and equal application of the law would kill off these social media in a flash. And, overall, we’d be much better off: Other media might revive, the epidemic of depression, suicide and bullying would abate and fake news would find far fewer outlets. What’s to regret?

      In any event, I believe that a sharp focus on the legal responsibilities that should apply here is the best way to clamp a steel collar on these giants.

      Reply
  3. Ignacio

    There is a lot to argue about here. What strikes me the most is that in the US you can privately do much more than publicly. Is this a strenght or a weakness? I believe that the first amendment was originally an antifederalist addition to the constitution to contain federal power vs citizens and states.
    As I see it, it is much more worrysome to see Facebook agreeing with the Atlantic Council than a direct agreement with the Federal Government of the US. At least the Federal Government is under public scrutiny and every four years subjected to public elections while the Atlantic Council is an obscure organization. I find it amusing that Taibbi argues that the Facebook-At.Council agreement is kind of a hidden government censorship, kind of a way to circunvent the first amendment. I dislike this approach. Imagine, for instance a future election in which a progressive candidate is elected. Do you think the Atlantic Council would align with this new federal gobernment? Doubtful. To begin with, Facebook would be the first line of attack against such progressive candidate.

    So, Facebook censorship is something well beyond the first amendment and we have to go back to the fact that 70-75% of news traffic is channeled through Facebook & Google and the second fact that incomes of these companies do not depend on their services as internet channels but on gathering information and selling it. As shown by the Cambridge Analytica, affair those services meddle with the traditional electoral process and are not subjected to any kind of oversigth. Over time you end with crapified services on which you are channeled to whatever the provider finds the most lucrative contracts. In my opinion the search engine provided by Google is, by far, more dangerous than the social network and after the repeal of net neutrality. Today I can use Duck Duck Go but tomorrow the applications that support other search engines could be banned in computers and smartphones. Everybody knows that other news providers produce fake news and highly skewed content but everything is OK as long as you can choose thorough a large array of those.

    At the end of the day the important question is how to figth those monopolies and ensure that the public cannot be forced by private as well as public interests to follow through such a short list of providers.

    Reply
  4. beelzebub

    This is a whole lotta hooey. The council was founded in 1961 at the height of the cold war with intention of solidifying the alliance between the US and Western Europe. Gets funds from Transatlantic goverments. Perfect institution to address Russian influence in Great Britain, the US and Western Europe.

    Reply
    1. The Rev Kev

      Bellingcat, is that you? I know that you have a job with the Atlantic Council now. Look, here is a page on the Atlantic Council and if you note the names, a lot of them will be very familiar but for all the wrong sorts of things-

      https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Atlantic_Council

      begob has already listed their own official funding page which includes lots of defense contractors but here is the thing. If you use social media, especially Facebook, do you really want this mob to control what you see and do not see on it? Do you trust them with your digital life?

      Reply
    2. JTMcPhee

      What institution is perfect to address influence in Great (sic) Britain, the US and Western Europe of the, ahem, “deep state” or whatever it is, the CIA and the 16 other “national sec=urity(sic) agencies,” the Five Eyes and all that?

      Speaking of hooey. Speaking of making sure us mopes remain uncertain, fearful, and in doubt…

      Reply
      1. a different chris

        >making sure us mopes remain uncertain, fearful, and in doubt

        Actually this little s(family blog)t of a poster currently trying the other approach – lulling us into comfortable acquiescence.

        >The council was founded in 1961

        So what? What does that have to do with, well anything?

        >Perfect institution to address Russian influence

        Are the Russians not allowed to speak? Do we have any “perfect institutions” to address American interference around the entire world?

        Thought not.

        Reply
  5. Shane Mage

    When it comes to the first amendment–and everything else–there are NO legitimate “national security considerations.”

    Reply
    1. David Carl Grimes

      There’s an ongoing petition to replace Facebook, Google, Twitter’s “community standards” with first amendment protections.

      The internet is the modern public square. It is where political campaigns are fought and won, where journalism is created and distributed, and where grassroots movements are born. Yet, the free and open internet has become a controlled, censored space, monopolized by a few unaccountable corporations.

      By banning users from their platforms, those corporations can effectively remove politically unwelcome Americans from the public square. That is repugnant to our shared values of free speech and freedom of the press.

      The President should request that Congress pass legislation prohibiting social media platforms from banning users for First Amendment-protected speech. The power to block lawful content should be in the hands of individual users – not Mark Zuckerberg or Jack Dorsey.

      https://petitions.whitehouse.gov/petition/protect-free-speech-digital-public-square-0

      Reply
  6. XXYY

    Somewhat disappointing interview about an important subject.

    The first stage of the story happened over the course of the past few decades, when Google and Facebook essentially became a duopoly in terms of media distribution in this country. They control somewhere between 70 and 75 percent of the media distribution. That means most people get their news from one of those two sources. So if you control Google and Facebook, and they’re allowed to decide who gets in the feed and who gets deemphasized, then you can really control the media. And so the idea that they’re working with governmental bodies to push some content down and push others up is unbelievable. It’s a situation that we’ve never had a parallel to in this country before.

    I have no idea what Taibbi is talking about here. Corporate control of the information system and a collaborative relationship with the government’s agenda is the norm in US history, certainly since WWI and arguably since before that. Certainly the technologies of radio and TV have been 100% privately-controlled more or less since their invention, and the print media has been consolidating like crazy since WWII.

    The thing that’s new under the sun has been the emergence of the internet and its peer-to-peer communications model (instead of centralized broadcast). This has allowed a much more democratic and broad-based communication system to unfold, and we have been seeing the effects of it for the last couple of decades. Of course elites are trying to furiously stuff the genie back in the bottle, with limited success so far.

    The [Facebook] company, of course, is wholly unsuited for the task of monitoring and sifting through content to decide what is, what is real news and what isn’t. They’re not a news organization. They’ve never really claimed to be. In fact, they’ve aggressively- you know, Facebook, up until a year and a half ago, was openly saying that’s not what we do. We are not editors. We don’t sift through content. So inevitably what’s going to happen is they’re going to appeal to an outside body for help in sifting through all this material, and that’s where you have this issue of their cooperating with something like the Atlantic Council in the United States, or you have a situation like in China, where Google is cooperating with the Chinese government to maybe sift out content there. The Israeli government is also working with both of these companies. That’s where you have the problem. These are not news organizations. They don’t have the traditional urge to be separate from governments the way that news organizations do. They want to work with the governments, and that’s, that’s a serious problem.

    It’s a good point that FB et al don’t even have a pretense of being journalists. The US (to its credit) has a tradition where journalists are supposed to be professionals and are supposed to maintain distance from and question official positions. IMO this is greatly overrated, most media institutions are quite subservient to power, but at least you can call out individual reporters on this and they may feel some shame. FB owners and workers have no aspiration to speak truth to power or anything else. They are web site operators. So we are unlikely to get even pro-forma resistance to attempts to shape the content they present.

    The platforms like Google and Facebook are where many of us increasingly get all of our information. We talk to our friends and family. We use it as a public space. But they and all the digital media that we use don’t belong to us. They’re private entities that are now making a regular habit of banning images and words for a variety of both nebulous and extremely dangerous reasons, or potentially dangerous reasons. Facebook and others are also teaming up with some pretty shady characters and businesses as they develop a new model of censorship. That should give us all pause.

    Interestingly, the analog to this in the 80s in meat-space was shopping malls. Increasingly, people would spend their time on these privately-owned properties instead of on public streets and parks. People organizing protests and doing signature gathering found they were being shut out of these “public” spaces in society because traditional free-speech provisions did not apply to private property. (The famous Pruneyard decision provided us some relief, and was frequently cited to mall security guards.) As internet content moves from the open web onto private sites (why?), these same types of issues are arising.

    Reply
  7. Bobby Gladd

    Great topic, great commentariat discussion. I’ve been mostly offline the past week getting my bad aortic valve replaced (got home yesterday). Gotta get caught up on a lot of stuff. Did manage to squeeze off a twitter round at Mob Boss Kudlow:

    “Nice little technology company you got there. Be a real shame if something bad happened to it.“

    Reply
      1. Bobby Gladd

        Thank you, sir. So far, so good.

        More troubling to me in a broader sense is the GOP’s (not-so) stealth effort to pervert the First Amendment into a Constitutional clause that decrements certain actual “speech” while indemnifying “religiously-based” acts of bigotry against disfavored minorities. See “FADA” (First Amendment Defense Act). Money is now political “speech.” Coming soon, federally-supported bigoted behaviors may become “free speech” as well.

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  8. rps

    These are not news organizations. They don’t have the traditional urge to be separate from governments the way that news organizations do. They want to work with the governments,

    “Till at last the child’s mind is these suggestions, and the sum of the suggestions is the child’s mind. And not the child’s mind only. The adult’s mind too–all his life long. The mind that judges and desires and decides–made up of these suggestions. But all these suggestions are our suggestions!” The Director almost shouted in his triumph. “Suggestions from the State.” He banged the nearest table. “It therefore follows …” Brave New World

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  9. Charles Yaker

    What was it Franklin said about keeping our Republic! Those that are concerned can move to http://www.mewe.com the others won’t budge until it’s too late.

    In a more perfect US where the rule of Law superseded rule of men (or the Bible) Oliver Wendell Holmes ruling RE “shouting fire in a crowded theatre “ would have dealt with Alex Jones Et al.

    Personally I see nothing to take us out of our current trajectory. Unfortunately Hari Seldon and Daneel Olivaw are not available to start a second or is it third republic for us when the world brings on the crash. Think the opioid crisis and next pandemic.

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    1. Elizabeth Burton

      I put a copy of my Facebook group on MeWe, but doing both takes up more time than I have to attend to regularly. Which is, of course, the problem. People know Facebook and Twitter. And many if not most aren’t inclined to go somewhere new because their friends will still mostly be on Facebook and Twitter.

      In other words, just as we aren’t going to have a viable third political party immediately, alternatives to the established social media platforms aren’t going to be replaced anytime soon. In the meantime, activists have no choice but to remain on them while working to migrate their audiences and prospective audiences to less intrusive places.

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  10. Eudora Welty

    Great discussion. I got my undergraduate degree in journalism around 1980, got my first full-time job as a copy editor at a daily newspaper in a rural area in the Midwest. Sometimes I designed/ laid out the front page. We had the wire services, AP/ UPI, send us recommended coverage for the front page. It botnered me, that still small voice. I had some license for creativity, but the decisions were made for me. Call me naive. It was the beginning of my departure from conventional journalism, which made me very sad. I grieved. But I found other ways to use writing skills & express myself. I didn’t want to be an iconoclast or whatever, but it was what I was. And then 25 years later (give or take), I watched the whole profession fall apart. I was ahead of my time.

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    1. Elizabeth Burton

      For me, the last straw was when a city editor, who had a jones about the local hospitals, deliberately rewrote my lede on a story about how one had fought its way out of bankruptcy to make it sound like it was still insolvent. Which the copyeditors writing the headline then displayed as a front-page banner.

      And then I was taken to task for not taking the blame. There were scores of other things, but I swore off journalism for twenty years—until my conscience wouldn’t let me continue. I have a jones for facts, and watching intelligent people being mind-controlled with propaganda just isn’t acceptable.

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  11. albert

    The problem, as I see it, isn’t really the use of FB and other ‘social’ media. It’s the lack of -critical thought- which needs to be applied to -any- purported ‘factual’ information. It’s far too easy to sit on your ass and osmotically absorb anything that comes your way via the Internet, a newspaper, or magazine. Factor in television/radio, and you’ve got the perfect setup for the propaganda machine. People tend to gravitate toward sources that reinforce their world view. They may end up supporting positions that are completely untenable, because of their lack of critical thinking.

    Google is OK for some things, but for political and other controversial subjects, Google can’t be trusted. I’d recommend DuckDuckGo, for now anyway.

    Do we teach our students critical thinking? It doesn’t seem so. Our educational system seems intent on providing very expensive vocational training. The student loan monopoly ensures a steady supply of indentured servants.

    The rise of Trump and the rise (and fall) of Sanders is a bellwether. When Clinton lost, and Sanders shook up the system, the Elite* were involuntarily eliminating rectangular baked-clay building materials. As expected, they began to tighten up their control of The System. And we’ve not seen the end of it.

    ————-
    * There are two groups of the Elite, the ‘visible’ and the ‘invisible’.
    . .. . .. — ….

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