“Fake News” Ethics: Top Ten Culprits (And Facebook Isn’t One Of Them)


“Fake News” is now a big topic in the news media, as it tries to lead public attention away from legitimate scrutiny of its own bias and incompetence, Facebook, in particular, is the target of this outcry, because the false narrative (should Facebook also be helped responsible for policing false narratives?) that fake news drove Donald Trump’s shocking victory is more palatable than the accurate narrative that Trump was opposed by the only candidate so corrupt, dishonest and inept that he had a chance of winning.

Here’s an interesting study of how Facebook’s algorithms circulates news stories that are made up. The focus on this kind of fake news, however, creates a fake picture of the problem that over-emphasizes hoax stories, many of which, apparently, come from teens in Macedonia exploiting American online gullibility for profit. The problem is that Americans are so ignorant that when some of them read a story that says  the Pope endorsed Donald Trump, they believe it. (Popes don’t endorse presidential candidates, and if anyone conscious thinks about it for five minutes, they should be able to figure out why.) The problem is that 40% of Americans are so lazy that they get their news from social media (and another chunk gets its news from comedy shows.)

The Blame Facebook theory is that because Facebook is foolishly relied upon by inept and gullible citizens to get their information about the world, Facebook has to take on the impossible task of vetting news items.

Facebook, however, is neither trustworthy nor competent to do this. Facebook is biased. Facebook is overrun with social justice warriors whose idea of what Facebook should censor is anything that offends them. For example:

Mark Zuckerberg had to fend off employees during the U.S. presidential campaign who wanted to censor billionaire Donald Trump’s posts due to alleged hate speech. Controversial statements by Mr. Trump’s presidential campaign in December forced Mr. Zuckerberg to quash a mini-mutiny of staffers who threatened to quit if they could not delete the candidate’s posts. Sources close to the matter told The Wall Street Journal that some of the comments in question involved a plan to ban Muslim immigrants while the U.S. determines how to best combat the Islamic State group.

Biased selections regarding which news to print while censoring the statements of a Presidential candidate are at least as misleading as fake news.

Presumably Facebook won’t try vet the misleading, dishonest news stories, commentary, links and memes I see flooding Facebook every day, courtesy of my nice, friendly, smart, educated, completely left-biased and right-biased friends who throw absolute garbage out as truth and immediately receive dozens of “Likes” for doing so. These are a lot more visible and just as brain-muddling as any Macedonian fiction. Here’s one example from yesterday, and to the good friend who posted it, I love you dearly but you are gullible and irresponsible:

BREAKING: Trump Announces Plan To ELIMINATE Overtime Pay For 20,000,000 Americans

This is completely false, as one would learn, sort of, by reading the story. Republicans are going to review regulations established in the last 60 days and kill the ones they think are ill-advised, as the law allows Congress to do. One that might be in jeopardy is a recent  rule that requires companies to pay time-and-a-half overtime to employees who make under roughly $47,000. The article also eventually says that it is House Republicans who say they are targeting the rule. So, to summarize:

  • Trump announced no such plan.
  • Nothing is being eliminated, since nobody has received any extra pay to be eliminated.
  • The alleged regulation cancellation wouldn’t take away overtime pay, as the headline states, but the requirement of paying overtime plus 50%.
  • Killing the rule wouldn’t take away such overtime or ban it; employers would still be free to pay time and a half at their discretion.

In short, the headline is fake news, designed to attack Trump. This kind of fake news isn’t included in the linked study, and for good reason. If we fairly call misleading headlines fake news, Facebook would be charged with vetting the mainstream media constantly. What about real quotes, from supposedly reliable people, that falsely spread rumors or specious accusations? Jim Comey did not violate the Hatch Act, as Harry Reid claimed. Trump is not a Nazi, as Howard Dean just claimed. Those quotes are just as misleading than nonsense about the Pope endorsing Donald Trump, but they are real quotes, from well-respected people who are being irresponsible.

As I mentioned in an earlier post about election night, esteemed Presidential historian Doug Brinkley, for reasons known only to himself, went on the air live on CNN and concocted a new alibi for Hillary Clinton and the Democrats. using fake history to do it. He said that there were powerful historical patterns at work in Hillary’s defeat, and that it is always hard for any one party to hold the White House for three consecutive terms. Then, as exceptions to the rule and to show how rare the exceptions were, Brinkley cited Reagan successfully pushing George H.W. Bush on the nation as his “third term,” and then went all the way back to 1836 for his other exception, when popular Democrat President Andrew Jackson got his acolyte Martin Van Buren elected to succeed him.

For days after this, I kept hearing Brinkley’s observation cited by talking heads and my disappointed Democratic friends, yet what he had said was wildly, unforgivably untrue. On election night, I ticked off the instances where one party has held the Presidency for more than two terms on the spot, right after Brinkley’s fiction (much to the annoyance of my wife):

After Van Buren, there were a bunch of one term Whigs and Democrats, but Lincoln’s two terms (the last finished by Andrew Johnson) was followed by Grant for two more, Hayes for one, and Garfield/Arthur for four more years. That 6 straight Republican terms, Doug. Then, three terms later, McKinley was elected to two, Teddy Roosevelt for one on top of the McKinley term he finished out, and Teddy anointed Taft as his successor just as Jackson had with Van Buren. That’s four straight Republican terms, or as we call it around my house, “More than two.”

But wait! There’s more! After Wilson and Mrs, Wilson served out two Democratic terms, we got Harding, Coolidge, and Hoover, another three Republicans in a row. Then the Democrats made up for those consecutive runs with five straight of their own, courtesy of FDR’s four and Truman beating Dewey. In short, Brinkley gave the nation fake history, which then became fake news. Is Facebook obligated to factcheck esteemed presidential historians?

Every time a columnist stated that Hillary Clinton was the most qualified presidential candidate ever, it was fake news. Every time a news story mentions how Trump wants to deport “immigrants,” that’s fake news. Every time Trayvon Martin is included in a list of unarmed blacks shot by whites police, it’s fake news.

The claims by pollsters, fully swallowed by the Clinton-supporting media’s confirmation bias, that Clinton’s victory was a lock was fake news. It was the product of ignorance, bias and incompetence, but it was still fake. We also have the real news that is called fake by partisan liars, and promptly ignored by their mainstream media allies. A long-running example is the IRS investigation, which the Obama Administration announced was just another right wing conspiracy theory, and the news media compliantly refused to report on it for years now. The fact that a Democratic administration probably used the tax collecting agency to harass conservative groups while interfering with their political speech is a major scandal, and there is nothing fake about it.

From the Wall Street Journal: A Crisis of Authority—II, by James Taranto:

[I]n a lengthy series of interviews, both pre- and postelection, with the New Yorker’s David Remnick, Obama has been quite fretful—torn, as at that press conference, between his duty as a lame-duck president to respect the office and the man who will soon hold it, and his anguish at what amounts to a repudiation of authority. … Remnick himself described the Obama presidency as “two terms long on dignity and short on scandal.” The IRS? …Again, the memory hole. In Lima on Sunday the president himself declared: “I am extremely proud of the fact that over eight years we have not had the kinds of scandals that have plagued other administrations.” That’s either delusional or very carefully worded: To our knowledge no other administration has used the IRS to punish ordinary citizens for dissent…

This isn’t just a conservative blogger’s spin. For nearly four years, a lonely law professor, Paul Caron, has carefully documented the progress of the investigation  and related law suits in the matter of the IRS allegedly trying to suppress conservative political speech during the 2012 elections. Though Obama’s politicized Justice Department should have handed the investigation over to an independent prosecutor, it was allowed to ignore the critical question of whether high officials at the agency believed they were doing the President’s bidding. Here’s a recent development:

“A federal judge ruled this month in a lawsuit in the ongoing IRS tea party saga that there was “a strong showing” that the agency had discriminated against conservative groups because of their political stances. And U.S. District Court Judge Michael R. Barrett wrote in a decision that a particular group  suing the IRS “has made a strong showing of a likelihood of success” on its claim that its free speech rights were violated by the delay in processing the application.”

Did you see this on Facebook? (I saw that Clint Eastwood had died!) Did you see it on CNN? The New York Times? The fact that you haven’t means that the news media is telling you that the IRS hasn’t been using its tax authority to tale away the First Amendment rights of conservatives.

The top ten culprits in the fake news crisis are:

1. American journalism, which can no longer be trusted to be accurate, objective or fair.

2. Headline writers, who distort stories with false headlines, and the editors who let them do it in search of “clickbait.”

3. Individual, highly-visible media stars, who abuse their authority, as when CNN’s Chris Cuomo solemnly told audiences that they would be breaking the law if they read a Wikileaks leaked e-mail.

4. The broken education system, which graduates citizens so deficient in critical thinking and basic knowledge that they are dangerously vulnerable to hoaxes, propaganda, manipulation and lies.

5. Trust-abusing public figures, like Trump and Hillary Clinton, who intentionally or negligently misstate facts and law.

6. Factchecking organizations, like the disgraced Snopes.com, that cannot seem to avoid biased and slanted analysis.

7. Comedy news and comedy pundits, who take their clown noses on and off indiscriminately, and present themselves as truthtellers when they have neither the training, integrity, objectivity or ability to fill that role.

8. Hoax news sources that measure success by how many people they can deceive.

9. Irresponsible social media users who are more passionate than intelligent, retweeting nonsense and posting memes like this one, which I will now pick at random from my Facebook feed…oh, this one’s wonderful:



10. The unholy alliance between political parties, political leaders and the news media, which results in real news being labeled as fake, and distortions and spin being reported as fact.

It’s not Facebook’s responsibility to vet the news, and neither it, nor Twitter, nor any other social media platform can be trusted to do it ethically anyway.

18 thoughts on ““Fake News” Ethics: Top Ten Culprits (And Facebook Isn’t One Of Them)

    • But, but, but…

      “They can’t put anything on the internet that isn’t true.”

      I’ve thought more than once that the idiot portrayed in that commercial is a lot closer to the truth about sooooooooooo many people than we want to openly admit. I’ve seen real life idiots just like that in person, and I’m absolutely sure that many of you have too.

  1. The propaganda will not stop now that the election is over. The left has elevated propaganda to the top of their list of tactics; I expect the levels of anti-Trump propaganda from the left will likely uptick as we go forward.

  2. Does Zuckerberg employ a bunch of 12 year olds?? I don’t understand this… if you are so secure in your position (in this case, it’s the 12-year olds who feel that Trump was wholy unqualified for office, in part, bc of his rhetoric), then why would you want to prevent others from coming to the same conclusion, after hearing the same rhetoric that drove you to that conclusion in the first place? Doesn’t preventing people from hearing him be “hateful”, in essence, normalize him to a great many voters, and give them one less reason to not vote for him?

    • I think it’s the “YOU CAN’T SAY THAT!!” feeling when really, the sentence should be “You can’t *responsibly* say that.” And people are over-the-top worried and scared and ticked off that he was getting so much ink at the time. They want every tweet and utterance to qualify as “FIRE!” in a crowded theatre, when it really isn’t- they *want* it to reach that level of illegal because it irks them that much. And if they thought it was as dangerous to public discourse as I think it’s proven to be, don’t many of us wish much of it wasn’t allowed? Hey, much of what he utters/tweets gets me mad, too, but he still has a right to say/tweet it.

    • I think legit news organizations have noticed the public’s appetite for slanted coverage–on both the left and the right–so no one’s hands are clean. It’s seeping into everyone’s news stories when it used to be confined to the opinion pages and channels like Fox and MSNBC.

      Outlets are on the hunt for viewers and subscribers since times have been lean — which leads to provocative, misconstrued headlines. And local news stations have been using it for years. “Could your cat be plotting to kill you? Find out at 11.”

      I’m a writer and I purposely end chapters on a tense. provocative note to keep people reading–but I clearly identify my work as fiction. That’s why situations ramp up before a television show goes to commercial, too.

      Makes me grateful for my media crit class in college, so I can sort through everything.

  3. He said that there were powerful historical patterns at work in Hillary’s defeat,”

    He was right about that… the historical pattern being that Americans fall away from the voting booth when presented with a candidate whose corruption reaches HISTORICALLY colossal levels.

  4. Great post. I can’t believe our president was in Germany talking about “fake news.” And who gets their news from facebook? Dumb.

  5. Some may call me stupid for this…but I come HERE to see what you say about things. In my search for truth this past election season, i stumbled somehow on your blog. I remember thinking when I read some of your posts… “OMG I’m NOT crazy!!” it was THAT hard to find sources who in my view told the truth and applied the same standard to all their stories and would admit a mistake.

    I was impressed by your rules, and bio. And comments.

    Wasn’t so happy when you asked me to type correctly instead of my normal all lower case… But it’s your house and your rules and I am happy to respect them until I earn enough respect or permission to type w/o using upper and lower case. (it helps me get my thoughts out better and when I stop to do that I can lose a thought… so now I edit 🙂

    Thank you for being the ONE source I measure most things against. I hope your blog gets bigger OR I had an idea… “Ethics Alarms Made Easy” like a Reader’s Digest for people who don’t have time to read tons of commentary but want the principles. I think you’d reach a lot more people.

    (but don’t change… add on!!) Like you need more work right?

    Thank you again.

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