The journalism ethics site Poynter begins a story today , “Over the past couple of years, Twitter has done the bare minimum to fight fake news, avoiding the kind of negative press that has plagued Facebook in the process.”
Talk about a bad start. No social media platform is qualified to “fight fake news” except to allow participants to make their own cases regarding what is fake news and what isn’t. They can and do indulge in incompetent, biased and often partisan censorship, covering their tracks by employing “factcheckers” that themselves can’t be trusted not to indulge their biases and political agendas, of course. That’s what Facebook has been doing, and, proving that there is justice in the universe, suffering for it.
Twitter hasn’t been censoring what it calls fake news; it’s just been using double standards to ban conservatives for “hate speech” when parallel leftist rhetoric gets past the gate-keepers. Federalist writer Elizabeth Kantor, for example, was kicked off twitter for this tweet in tongue-in-cheek support for the new racist New York Times editor:
“@sarahjeong This whitey is cheering you on as you fight off the Twitter mob. Down with deplatforming! Plus, it’s clarifying abt. what kind of paper the NYT wants to be . . .”
Twitter told her had engaged in “hateful conduct” that violates Twitter’s terms of service: “Violating our rules against hateful conduct.You may not promote violence against, threaten, or harass other people on the basis of race, ethnicity, national origin…”
Jeong, however, who had started the hashtag “#CancelWhitePeople” as well as many other anti-white, anti-male Twitter content, remains a valued Twitter user.
Twitter not only is partisan and biased, it also has no integrity. What upset Poynter is that Twitter didn’t join Apple, Facebook and others in their Sunday Night Purge of right-wing wacko Alex Jones. The fact that it banned Kantor for one innocuous political tweet and not her target for dozens of racist ones doesn’t seem to bother Poynter’s unethical ethicists, just that it hasn’t joined the effort to silence Jones online. Twitter, its says, is failing its duty to combat “misinformation.”
Here was the message from the Twitter CEO, communicated, naturally, in a series of tweets:
We didn’t suspend Alex Jones or Infowars yesterday. We know that’s hard for many but the reason is simple: he hasn’t violated our rules. We’ll enforce if he does. And we’ll continue to promote a healthy conversational environment by ensuring tweets aren’t artificially amplified. Truth is we’ve been terrible at explaining our decisions in the past. We’re fixing that. We’re going to hold Jones to the same standard we hold to every account, not taking one-off actions to make us feel good in the short term, and adding fuel to new conspiracy theories. If we succumb and simply react to outside pressure, rather than straightforward principles we enforce (and evolve) impartially regardless of political viewpoints, we become a service that’s constructed by our personal views that can swing in any direction. That’s not us.Accounts like Jones’ can often sensationalize issues and spread unsubstantiated rumors, so it’s critical journalists document, validate, and refute such information directly so people can form their own opinions. This is what serves the public conversation best.
In an earlier tweet from another Twitter account, Twitter stated,
“As we have stated publicly, we strongly believe Twitter should not be the arbiter of truth nor do we have scalable solutions to determine and action what’s true or false.”
To sum up, Twitter is continuing to ban or punish users inequitably based on partisan and ideological standards of what is “hateful conduct,” a catch-whatever-we-want-to-catch-at the-time phrase not subject to objective definition. Unethical. It is, however, siding with the values of free speech, free expression,and open discourse, while rejecting the “resistance” and liberal news media censorship standard of “our fake news is inviolate speech, speech that we dispute should be blocked.”
Twitter’s stand in this matter is ethical, and exemplary—if it has the fortitude to stick to it. About that, we shall see.
Then why is Poynter indignant? Daniel Funke writes at the site:
Facebook partners with more than 25 fact-checking projects around the world to debunk and flag fake stories and images on the platform, which decreases its future reach by up to 80 percent. (Disclosure: Being a signatory of the IFCN’s code of principles is a necessary condition for participation in the project.) Google surfaces and highlights fact checks high up in search results by using the Schema.org ClaimReview markup, and even YouTube recently announced that it will surface “authoritative” sources high up in search results during breaking news.
While there’s amplereason to doubt that Facebook and Google’s efforts are working, Twitter doesn’t even have any comparable programs, aside from aiding a collaborative fact-checking project during the recent Mexican elections. And it’s not like the company isn’t aware of efforts at other companies — fact-checkers have repeatedly asked Twitter for similar partnerships.
How can a site devoted to journalism ethics promote fact-checking with a metaphorical straight face if it has read more than a handful of fact-checks during the regrettable Era of the Partisan Fact-Check, also popularly known as now? It isn’t that these and other entities that provide the dubious service are always incompetent, careless, biased, or pushing a partisan agenda, it’s just that they are guilty of these things frequently enough that I, and no one in their right minds, should want to trust then to decide what we can see online. The answer, sadly, is the Poynter, like most of the media, shares the same biases. Naturally Funke thinks fact-checkers are wonderful: he “covers fact-checking, online misinformation and fake news for the International Fact-Checking Network .”
Here’s a starting point: the concept that organizations, be it the government variety or those in journalism, can protect dumb, ignorant, vulnerable, lazy, careless people devoid of proper levels of critical thought from their own deficiencies is itself a falsehood. What they can do, and do, and have done for too long to tally up, is to try to manipulate such people into believing what the organizations want them to believe, and—perhaps—fervently and sincerely think this is what it is good for them to believe. The journalists’ argument that Twitter should do their job—which they have proven beyond all doubt that they cannot be trusted to do fairly or well—by preventing individuals and organizations from publishing the lies—or maybe not–opinions, accounts and theories these Twitter-users want to be read, while the official gate-keepers of the Truth, like the New York Times, can continue hammering on the conspiracy theory that Donald Trump stole the 2016 election by conspiring with the Russian government—to take one obvious example—is untenable. Alex Jones is a clown; you don’t have to watch him for more than a minute to figure that out, unless you can’t figure anything out. He has even admitted in court filings that he is a purveyor of performance art. His “fake news” is easy to knock down, except for people who want to believe it, like the people on Facebook who keep sending sound those “Do you think Obama was our greatest President?” memes and polls that immediately garner hundreds of “likes” and “loves.” Those who want to believe nonsense will believe nonsense: there is exactly as strong an argument that Barack Obama was our greatest President as there is that Sandy Hood was a hoax, which is to say there is no valid argument at all.
I was troubled when the Supreme Court allowed the 9th Circuit decision declaring the Stolen Valor Act unconstitutional to stand, for my father’s valor, as a Silver Star and Bronze Star recipient in World War II, was the kind of valor being stolen. The declaration, however, that even lies are protected speech unless they amount to other crimes, like inciting a riot, defamation or fraud, was a correct and important one, I have come to believe. Twitter, like the other social media platforms, are private businesses, and they have the right to warp and distort their content any way they like. As vital organs of public discourse, however, they have immense power, and abusing that power, like journalists have begun openly abusing their power, to decide what the public gets to communicate and read about, should be condemned. Journalists won’t condemn it—they have a country to brainwash. The public must condemn it. Don’t allow the powerful purveyors of dubious speech to silence the vulnerable. Alex Jones is exactly the kind of fringe voice our values are supposed to protect.