Why Facebook Needs to Take Responsibility for Fake News
Washington Post reporter Wesley Lowery says the social media giant isn't excused from making responsible editorial choices just because it wishes to see itself as a technology company first.
Wesley Lowery is a national reporter for the Washington Post who covers law enforcement, justice, race and politics. He previously covered Congress and national politics. Prior to joining the Washington Post in February 2014, he worked as a breaking news and local politics reporter for the Boston Globe, and has also reported for the Los Angeles Times and the Wall Street Journal. In 2014, he was named the National Association of Black Journalists' "Emerging Journalist of the Year." Follow him on Twitter @WesleyLowery.
Wesley Lowery: I think Facebook is responsible for what exists and what happens on its platform and I think that Facebook has been negligent in its responsibility to safeguarding and providing a forum in which sane and reasonable interaction happens and that hysterical and untrue interaction does not happen. What we know is that Facebook has the ability to deal with fake news. These are fake sites that they pop up. They’re being spread by specific pages and specific accounts and rather than address that Facebook has allowed millions of people to become deeply ill informed. Now there’s a question how democratic should a platform like Facebook be? If everyone wants to share a fake news article should that be allowed? Or does Facebook have some editorial control of what it allows to be propagated via its own mechanisms and its own channels. I mean I think that Facebook needs to take greater steps in these spaces because again Facebook itself has become a media publisher and it is now the platform and the canvas for chaos to be created by all of this fake information spreading so quickly without any check and balance and any responsibility being taken by the platform of sorting through what is true and what is not.
I mean there has to be some editorial infrastructure. And they’ve had in the past some editorial infrastructure. They at one time had a staff that was figuring out what should be in the trending news and what should not. And immediately after they got rid of that staff all of a sudden there was a bunch of fake news in the trending, right. And that would be one obvious step. But I also think that there has to be – Facebook has remarkable power through its algorithms and through its media partnerships to make decisions about what becomes prominent on its site and what does not. There’s certainly an organic democratic role to this but it’s not as if they are just completely sitting back and playing no role over what we see and what we do not. And as soon as they begin playing that role at all they now take on I believe a responsibility to curate this content. Like I said I just think it’s extremely damaging, you think about newspapers. Newspapers don’t run every letter they get. There’s a decision. There’s a curation, right. We decide this one is just a rambling that has nothing to do with anything. This is just full of falsehoods, right. When you choose to publish something on your platform on your canvas you are making an editorial decision to allow it to exist in a space. Facebook takes down threatening and abusive things all the time. It takes down personal attacks or nudity or pornography, right. It has the ability when you have specific publishers that are constantly spreading misinformation it has some ability to undercut those publishers from further spreading that.
A recent Buzzfeed investigation found that fake news stories were more popular on Facebook in the 3-month runup to the 2016 presidential election than real news stories from credible sources. The analysis showed the public's voracious appetite for sensational falsehoods. Stories like the Pope endorsing Donald Trump, or Hillary Clinton selling arms to ISIS, gathered large amounts of attention from Facebook users even though they never happened.
Such stories are frequently featured on bogus websites, masquerading as legitimate news sources, that look simply to convert user clicks into advertising revenue. Enter the question of legal versus moral responsibility. Under US law, online platforms are not legally responsible for content they post, but companies as large and as powerful as Facebook do have a responsibility to the public interest, says Washington Post reporter Wesley Lowery.
Over the last years, Lowery has crisscrossed America, covering stories of police violence that often find a sympathetic audience on social platforms like Facebook. And as an increasing number of individuals get their news from social networks, Lowery compares Facebook to traditional newspapers, which make editorial decisions deciding what to publish. If a letter to the paper is full of misinformation, or is simply a rant, the editors will decline to publish it in the paper. Facebook did have a team of editors who decided which stories should be featured in the trending news category, but those editors were laid off after a controversy over what bias they may have in selecting stories.
Of course one bias they did not have was promoting stories that were flagrantly false. Now, Facebook and Google say they will exclude fraudulent media outlets from their advertising network, attempting to de-incentivize their drive to create fake news in the first place.
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What is human dignity? Here's a primer, told through 200 years of great essays, lectures, and novels.
- Human dignity means that each of our lives have an unimpeachable value simply because we are human, and therefore we are deserving of a baseline level of respect.
- That baseline requires more than the absence of violence, discrimination, and authoritarianism. It means giving individuals the freedom to pursue their own happiness and purpose.
- We look at incredible writings from the last 200 years that illustrate the push for human dignity in regards to slavery, equality, communism, free speech and education.
The inherent worth of all human beings<p>Human dignity is the inherent worth of each individual human being. Recognizing human dignity means respecting human beings' special value—value that sets us apart from other animals; value that is intrinsic and cannot be lost.</p> <p>Liberalism—the broad political philosophy that organizes society around liberty, justice, and equality—is rooted in the idea of human dignity. Liberalism assumes each of our lives, plans, and preferences have some unimpeachable value, not because of any objective evaluation or contribution to a greater good, but simply because they belong to a human being. We are human, and therefore deserving of a baseline level of respect. </p> <p>Because so many of us take human dignity for granted—just a fact of our humanness—it's usually only when someone's dignity is ignored or violated that we feel compelled to talk about it. </p> <p>But human dignity means more than the absence of violence, discrimination, and authoritarianism. It means giving individuals the freedom to pursue their own happiness and purpose—a freedom that can be hampered by restrictive social institutions or the tyranny of the majority. The liberal ideal of the good society is not just peaceful but also pluralistic: It is a society in which we respect others' right to think and live differently than we do.</p>
From the 19th century to today<p>With <a href="https://books.google.com/ngrams/graph?year_start=1800&year_end=2019&content=human+dignity&corpus=26&smoothing=3&direct_url=t1%3B%2Chuman%20dignity%3B%2Cc0" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">Google Books Ngram Viewer</a>, we can chart mentions of human dignity from 1800-2019.</p><img type="lazy-image" data-runner-src="https://assets.rebelmouse.io/eyJhbGciOiJIUzI1NiIsInR5cCI6IkpXVCJ9.eyJpbWFnZSI6Imh0dHBzOi8vYXNzZXRzLnJibC5tcy8yNDg0ODU0My9vcmlnaW4ucG5nIiwiZXhwaXJlc19hdCI6MTY1MTUwMzE4MX0.bu0D_0uQuyNLyJjfRESNhu7twkJ5nxu8pQtfa1w3hZs/img.png?width=980" id="7ef38" class="rm-shortcode" data-rm-shortcode-id="9974c7bef3812fcb36858f325889e3c6" data-rm-shortcode-name="rebelmouse-image" />
American novelist, writer, playwright, poet, essayist and civil rights activist James Baldwin at his home in Saint-Paul-de-Vence, southern France, on November 6, 1979.
Credit: Ralph Gatti/AFP via Getty Images
The future of dignity<p>Around the world, people are still working toward the full and equal recognition of human dignity. Every year, new speeches and writings help us understand what dignity is—not only what it looks like when dignity is violated but also what it looks like when dignity is honored. In his posthumous essay, Congressman Lewis wrote, "When historians pick up their pens to write the story of the 21st century, let them say that it was your generation who laid down the heavy burdens of hate at last and that peace finally triumphed over violence, aggression and war."</p> <p>The more we talk about human dignity, the better we understand it. And the sooner we can make progress toward a shared vision of peace, freedom, and mutual respect for all. </p>
Apple sold its first iPod in 2001, and six years later it introduced the iPhone, which ushered in a new era of personal technology.
A biologist-reporter investigates his fungal namesake.
The unmatched biologist-reporter Tomasz Sitarz interviews his fungal namesake, maślak sitarz – known in English as the Jersey cow mushroom.
With just a few strategical tweaks, the Nazis could have won one of World War II's most decisive battles.
- The Battle of Britain is widely recognized as one of the most significant battles that occurred during World War II. It marked the first major victory of the Allied forces and shifted the tide of the war.
- Historians, however, have long debated the deciding factor in the British victory and German defeat.
- A new mathematical model took into account numerous alternative tactics that the German's could have made and found that just two tweaks stood between them and victory over Britain.
Two strategic blunders<p>Now, historians and mathematicians from York St. John University have collaborated to produce <a href="http://www-users.york.ac.uk/~nm15/bootstrapBoB%20AAMS.docx" target="_blank">a statistical model (docx download)</a> capable of calculating what the likely outcomes of the Battle of Britain would have been had the circumstances been different. </p><p>Would the German war effort have fared better had they not bombed Britain at all? What if Hitler had begun his bombing campaign earlier, even by just a few weeks? What if they had focused their targets on RAF airfields for the entire course of the battle? Using a statistical technique called weighted bootstrapping, the researchers studied these and other alternatives.</p><p>"The weighted bootstrap technique allowed us to model alternative campaigns in which the Luftwaffe prolongs or contracts the different phases of the battle and varies its targets," said co-author Dr. Jaime Wood in a <a href="https://www.york.ac.uk/news-and-events/news/2020/research/mathematicians-battle-britain-what-if-scenarios/" target="_blank">statement</a>. Based on the different strategic decisions that the German forces could have made, the researchers' model enabled them to predict the likelihood that the events of a given day of fighting would or would not occur.</p><p>"The Luftwaffe would only have been able to make the necessary bases in France available to launch an air attack on Britain in June at the earliest, so our alternative campaign brings forward the air campaign by three weeks," continued Wood. "We tested the impact of this and the other counterfactuals by varying the probabilities with which we choose individual days."</p><p>Ultimately, two strategic tweaks shifted the odds significantly towards the Germans' favor. Had the German forces started their campaign earlier in the year and had they consistently targeted RAF airfields, an Allied victory would have been extremely unlikely.</p><p>Say the odds of a British victory in the real-world Battle of Britain stood at 50-50 (there's no real way of knowing what the actual odds are, so we'll just have to select an arbitrary figure). If this were the case, changing the start date of the campaign and focusing only on airfields would have reduced British chances at victory to just 10 percent. Even if a British victory stood at 98 percent, these changes would have cut them down to just 34 percent.</p>
A tool for understanding history<p>This technique, said co-author Niall Mackay, "demonstrates just how finely-balanced the outcomes of some of the biggest moments of history were. Even when we use the actual days' events of the battle, make a small change of timing or emphasis to the arrangement of those days and things might have turned out very differently."</p><p>The researchers also claimed that their technique could be applied to other uncertain historical events. "Weighted bootstrapping can provide a natural and intuitive tool for historians to investigate unrealized possibilities, informing historical controversies and debates," said Mackay.</p><p>Using this technique, researchers can evaluate other what-ifs and gain insight into how differently influential events could have turned out if only the slightest things had changed. For now, at least, we can all be thankful that Hitler underestimated Britain's grit.</p>
The next era in American history can look entirely different. It's up to us to choose.
- The timeline of America post-WWII can be divided into two eras, according to author and law professor Ganesh Sitaraman: the liberal era which ran through the 1970s, and the current neoliberal era which began in the early 1980s. The latter promised a "more free society," but what we got instead was more inequality, less opportunity, and greater market consolidation.
- "We've lived through a neoliberal era for the last 40 years, and that era is coming to an end," Sitaraman says, adding that the ideas and policies that defined the period are being challenged on various levels.
- What comes next depends on if we take a proactive and democratic approach to shaping the economy, or if we simply react to and "deal with" market outcomes.