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

pope-trump

“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. Continue reading

No, Ashleigh, That Isn’t “Libel,” And Why Are You Hosting A CNN Show Called “Legal Affairs” When You Don’t Know That?

Ashleigh-Banfield

In an epic clash of incompetents, CNN’s Ashleigh Banfield challenged Michael Cohen, one of Donald Trump‘s advisers over his retweeting an internet meme that said that Hillary Clinton “murdered” the victims of the Benghazi mission assault.

After the House Benghazi Select Committee released its final report on the 2012 terror attacks, Cohen delivered his tweet featuring this…

Cohen tweet

It is about as stupid, lazy and inflammatory as most political memes, and the fact that Cohen would think it worth circulating tells us all we need to know about both him and the man who pays him, who would have probably tweeted this junk himself if Cohen hadn’t. Remember Cohen? He’s the Trump lawyer who crudely threatened the Daily Beast and went on to proclaim that spousal rape was legal, when it isn’t. Cohen is, by definition, a thug, a creep, and a crummy lawyer. Naturally, he’s also a Trump advisor. (Tell me again how Trump, that keen judge of legal talent,  can be trusted to appoint better Supreme Court justices than Clinton would. Or that Honey Boo-Boo would.)

Sparring with Cohen on her show “Legal Views,” Ashleigh Banfield lectured the lawyer and told him, “This is libel.” thus making exactly as accurate a statement of law as Cohen’s earlier one about spousal rape. It was not libel. It was inflammatory political speech in a satirical context (would anyone think Clinton actually said this, as the meme suggests?) about a public figure, clearly an opinion rather than a statement intended to be taken literally, and no more libel than “Bush lied and people died.” Banfield’s diagnosis was 100% wrong, and the fervor with which it was delivered is the calling card of a Clinton defender. Continue reading

Facebook’s Sad, Ignorant, Compassionate, Irresponsible Post-Orlando Freakout

antigun cartoon

If I had the time and wanted to anger about two-thirds of my friends, I could go around Facebook and explain to them why their latest posted anti-gun meme, or latest simple-minded anti-gun cartoon, or furious rant against the NRA, Republicans and “gun nuts,” show them to be ignorant, hysterical, and irresponsible citizens. Maybe I’ll spend a day doing this and see what happens.

The culprits are everywhere, from all backgrounds. These aren’t just my actor friends, who tend to memorize lines with their brains and think with their hearts. It’s many of the lawyers I know too….also journalists, writers, policy-makers—all kinds. As they quote with approval partisan and ignorant anti-gun pundits, actors or elected officials, they also erupt with emotion, counting on a welter of “likes,” “loves” and crying faces from the friends, who uncritically cheer the sentiment without challenging the execrable law and logic. The process repeats over and over, like a rinse cycle, until the original posters are not only convinced that they are right, but that anyone who disagrees is an evil promoter of violence not worthy of human association. I have read, more than once, “If you disagree, keep your opinion to yourself, or I’ll unfriend you.”

I confess, I’ve resisted my natural instinct to take up those dares, because these people are in pain, and, frankly, temporarily deranged. Many of them are gay, an identify personally with the victims. I sympathize with that. They also have a right to their anti-gun opinions, but they are polluting an important debate and making any resolution impossible by being willfully ignorant, and rebelling in it. The lawyers are especially disgracing themselves. Again—it is irresponsible, and it is bad citizenship.

If I were going to be a Facebook vigilante and point out the serious flaws in the various anti-gun rants, my Facebook friends would find more notes like this one, which I left in response to a good friend’s rant against the head of the Gun Owners of America  blaming the Orlando shooting on “Gun Free Zones.”  My friend wrote…

“I’m willing to entertain just about any argument for gun rights, but this one is SHIT. I will not be convinced that on Sunday evening, even a few, trained, people violating the Gun Free Zone in a dimly lit club, with HUNDREDS of panicked, perhaps inebriated, people running in every direction for their lives, could get a “good shot” to take out the man responsible for this atrocity. I believe the result is called more deaths by “friendly fire.”

I responded in part…

The argument is that murderous shooters will be less likely to come to kill when there is a chance that someone will be armed. This is not “shit”…This is the oldest pro-gun/anti-gun divide of all: the criminals and terrorists aren’t the ones who will follow the gun regulations; law abiding citizens are. That should be obvious. I don’t believe for a moment that one can blame the massacre on ” Gun Free Zones.”…but the argument that a shooting occurred because an area wasn’t a Gun Free Zone is even more silly. Is a terrorist going to say, “Ooops! Can’t slaughter gays in that club—it’s a Gun Free Zone!” Of course not. Might a terrorist choose not to attack a venue where he knows that one or more people might be armed, rather than one where he knows the law-abiding victims will be defenseless? Maybe.

Your point of bias, and it’s a common one, is that the presence of a gun makes one unsafe. The presence of a maniac makes one unsafe. If you happen to have a gun, maybe you’re a bit safer. Agree or not, that isn’t “fucking insane.” What I do think is fucking insane is people allowing emotion to eat their brains all over Facebook. It doesn’t help.

It just doesn’t help.  This friend is rational and thoughtful, and I expect him to take my critique in the spirit in which it was offered.  I can’t always count on a reasonable response, however, such as from the friends have posted this meme:

Anti-Gun meme 1

Machine guns and automatic weapons are illegal. The meme goes along with the laments of those who believe that the Orlando shooter used an “assault rifle” or a military weapon in the shooting. When you point out that it was not an “assault weapon,” they just shrug the distinction off as an irrelevant detail, and this is a tell. All guns are indistinguishable to many of my friends. Guns are bad, that’s all. This undercuts the lie—and I am now convinced that it is a lie—that they don’t want to ban guns and repeal the Second Amendment.

Ken White wrote perceptively, as he usually does, on why this approach is both dishonest and counter-productive:

I support the argument that the United States should enact a total ban on civilians owning firearms.

Oh, I don’t support the ban. I support the argument.

I support the argument because it’s honest and specific. It doesn’t hide the ball, it doesn’t refuse to define terms, it doesn’t tell rely on telling people they are paranoid or stupid in their concerns about the scope of the ban. The argument proposes a particular solution and will require the advocate to defend it openly…There’s a very good reason to care about what you mean when you argue that “assault weapons” should be banned: the term is infinitely flexible. If you think it inherently means something specific, you haven’t bothered to inform yourself about the issue. “Assault weapon” means whatever the definers decide it should mean. Banning “assault weapons” is the gun version of banning “hate speech” or “disruptive protest” or “dangerous persons” or “interfering with a police officer” — it’s a blank check. And I don’t like handing out blank checks to the government to ban things and jail people…

A lot of my Facebook friends do, however. Here’s a link approvingly posted by a lawyer friend, saying in part.. Continue reading

Just To Wash The Nasty Residue Of Those Absurd Pilgrim-Syrian Refugee Analogies Out Of Your Brain, Here are Some Useful And Informative Silly Refugee Discourses

Go ahead, tell us how you'd keep THESE refugees out, Donald...

Go ahead, tell us how you’d keep THESE refugees out, Donald…

By the time Thanksgiving arrived, the social media memes pronouncing that for anyone who believes accepting Syrian refugees into the U.S. is less than wise policy it was rank hypocrisy to celebrate the holiday had become too much to bear. Granted, this stupid analogy was marginally less stupid than the “Jesus was a refugee so what kind of Christian are you?” stuff put out by OccupyDemocrats, but it was still pure debate pollution. Did the Native Americans know that the Europeans were refugees? Uh, no. Did they have a refugee policy? Nooooo. Was the territory that became the United States being targeting by terrorists? No. Had there been any previous terrorist attacks on Native Americans in North America? No. If the Indians had known about what the Spanish had already been doing to indigenous people, would they have been so welcoming? I think not. If Native Americans today could go back in time and decide all over again whether to allow the “refugees” to settle here, what would they decide?

You betcha.

Are the beneficiaries of a terrible decision ethically obligated to risk their own destruction by making the same mistake?I guess that’s the theory. Pardon me if I’m not persuaded, but you wouldn’t believe the “likes” this argument got on Facebook in its various forms.

Well, President Obama used this same illicit analogy before Thanksgiving, and the progressives and pundits nodded their heads furiously, like turkeys. Oh, snap, Mr. President! You really stuck it to those xenophobes!

President Obama obviously doesn’t care about his rhetoric any more, or think about it, either. He’s not as flagrant as Donald Trump in spewing irresponsible nonsense, but no ethical President should even spark the comparison.

Well, over at Law and the Multiverse, which is another neat website in the Ethics Alarms links, there is a very informative discussion of the refugee status of Superman, an environmental refugee (a planet exploding qualifies its residents) and Supergirl, another Krypton refugee whose status is a bit more complex. Law and the Multiverse features serious legal discussions of the legal issues that would be raised by the conduct and existence of superheroes in the real world. Here’s a sample, from author Kean Zimmerman’s discussion of Supergirl’s status: Continue reading

Refugee Debate Update: The Good, The Bad, The Ugly, The Stupid, and Then There’s Carol Costello

OccupyDemocrats2

Ugh. It’s hard, not to mention nauseating and repetitious, to simultaneously cover two Ethics Trainwrecks moving at alarming speed and generating unethical conduct and words in all directions. My backlog of other, non-campus, non-terrorism stories grows longer my the minute, but Ethics Alarms has a mission, damn it.

First the Stupid, represented by one of OccupyDemocrats many memes. I am torn, though: is this meme even worse?

OccupyDems

Somebody at OccupyDemocrats.org makes these constantly, and I’d be fascinated to know if whoever it is really thinks these are valid arguments, or are just appealing to, you know, reliably stupid people who aren’t thinking very hard, and who say, “Duhhh, yup! That’ll put those Republicans in their place! I’ll post this to Facebook!” How many Americans really are this deficient in critical thinking?

Maybe I don’t want to think too much about this.

Next, the Good:  Continue reading

Pop Ethics Quiz: Welcoming Rev. Talbert Swan, Late Passenger On The Trayvon Martin-George Zimmerman Ethics Train Wreck

George Zimmerman memes

Quick:

Name everything ethically and logically wrong with this meme.

While you’re making your list, I’ll explain.

It comes courtesy of Talbert Swan–website here, Facebook page here-— who tweeted it to his many followers, lots of whom then dutifully posted it on Facebook. Swan describes himself as a “public figure.”  He is, we learn, an activist, pastor, author, radio talk show host, NAACP president, National Chaplain, Iota Phi Theta Fraternity, Inc. Assistant General Secretary of the Church Of God In Christ. He is also, on the evidence of circulating this meme, a divisive race-baiter who is ignorant of the law, ethics and logic.

Swan sent out this graphic offal with all the typical hashtags: #Trayvon…#MikeBrown…#Ferguson, #Blacklivesmatter and the rest. I would normally just ignore it—I see idiotic memes every day—but this one was posted with approval by a Facebook friend of mine who is objectively brilliant and educated, and justly respected by many, including me. His comment ended with “Case closed!”, and immediately dozens of people “liked” it, many of them undoubtedly then spreading the meme further to make others more ignorant and stupid too. This is affirmatively harmful. Since I know my friend is a good person, the ethics breach is that of responsibility, competence, fairness, and citizenship, the latter because I think promoting racial distrust is being a bad American.

Have you tallied up all the things wrong yet? Here’s my list: Continue reading

About Bill Cosby

Cosby meme

Fair enough. Wait…what????

Why is Bill Cosby’s past avocation as a Hollywood power-abuser and serial sexual predator suddenly so upsetting to Hollywood that they are recoiling from him now?

I refuse to believe that everyone in the news media, the entertainment industry and the black community didn’t know all about it, and for many years. I wrote about it in 2007, and I am not an investigative reporter.

I have to conclude that this is all because of younger people learning about this for the first time and the effect of social media. When whoever runs Cosby’s Twitter account cluelessly challenged followers to “meme me!”, what resulted was a flood of derisive–but funny!—memes referencing the rape allegations (he reportedly used hypnotic drugs), like the one above, or this one:

Cosby meme1

 

I also have to conclude that… Continue reading