MILLENIAL ARROGANCE, FACEBOOK, & FAKE NEWS
In my last post, I discussed Google’s devious manipulation of search results as part of a crackdown on “fake news”; here, I will detail Facebook’s parallel efforts, which come at a time when the company’s increasingly active and self-interested control over online content discovery is becoming impossible to ignore.
Facebook’s dominance of the social internet and centrality to online content discovery means that it, more than any other individual actor, is determining the immediate future of online media. After first disclaiming the influential reach of his platform in the wake of Election ‘16, Mark Zuckerberg has now offered the public an exceedingly clear and expansive vision of what he sees as the company’s media endgame.
The time has now come for users to decide whether or not they want to come along for the ride.
Facebook is belatedly acknowledging its monopoly power and preemptively offering concessions to the media and the public in an effort to deflect backlash, all the while plowing ahead with its self-interested globalist agenda. It is doing so by shoring up control of its content ecosystem, partnering more closely with large media outlets, and lately, affirming an expansive new role for Facebook as a new-and-improved surrogate social reality. There is much to suggest that the company’s economic and political interests are at odds with many of its users’, who would be well advised to drop out of Mark Zuckerberg’s increasingly delusional vision of the future.
Facebook’s role in content discovery took on a new dimension in the wake of Election ’16, as concerns mounted that the platform has become a dangerous echo-chamber for disinformation and lies, potentially even being responsible for the erroneous decision to elect Donald Trump. Meanwhile, large corporations have grown concerned that their ads might be placed next to the latest live-streamed murder, gang-rape, or suicide, and seek assurances that Facebook is a corporate media safe-space, free of violence and its intellectual equivalent, the dread hate speech.
Wary of unwanted attention on its increasingly cozy media monopoly, Facebook has until recently taken pains to deny its influence; as the ever-eloquent Zuck told a group of students over the summer, “We are a tech company, not a media company. We build the tools; we do not produce any content.” The fact that the tools are those which determine how, and to whom, the majority of digital content is distributed is conveniently glossed over here, but this relationship has certainly not been lost on the media at large.
The Tow Center for Digital Journalism at Columbia recently convened a west coast panel to discuss the rapidly shifting balance of power in digital media, providing insight into how the media itself views these changes— from CJR’s entertaining summary of the panel discussion:
“The big themes: algorithms determining what people read; the siphoning of revenue away from publishers; the concentration of power and decision-making in a small number of companies; and whether technology can support journalism without undercutting it. “Platforms want to think of themselves as neutral terrain,” but they are not, said Clara Jeffery, editor of Mother Jones. “How best to wield that great responsibility?”
The question as to whether this power to police content for potentially aberrant views should be wielded at all, much less by a self-interested monopolist like Facebook, is not even considered by these pedantic cultural elitists. They remain trapped in a backwards-looking and paternalistic conception of the media as a formal consensus of highly-credentialed professionals working at traditional print and broadcast news outlets.
To this perspective, the fracturing of the media landscape is an unwelcome development; Facebook is simply too powerful a platform to be left to the grubby hands of the masses, who cannot be trusted to interpret information accurately on their own. Left to their own devices, they will abuse the platform to spread salacious, emotionally-manipulative, hateful, and downright “false news” stories — and without the enormous resources afforded by the traditional media’s local monopolies, it will simply be impossible for anyone to create insightful, impactful content, or to independently investigate potential abuses of power.
This world, in which any daring, ostensibly-literate soul with a keyboard can set themselves up as an independent media network, is still too horrifying for the mainstream media to comprehend. Witness the sad spectacle of New York Times’ CEO & President Mark Thompson, the failing media monopolist of yore, berating the ascendant power of today for more subsidies to sustain what now amounts to a Facebook fiefdom — from ZH:
“…the search and social media platforms could play a role. The advertising which once paid for professional journalism across this country and the rest of the western world is now migrating to them. Far from helping, if anything initiatives like Facebook Instant Articles, which host news stories natively, seem to make it even hard for responsible publishers to get their business models to work.”
“In all but a handful of cases like The Times with large audiences, deep engagement and real subscription potential, it’s easier today to make a profit on search and social from fake news than it is from the real thing. Where will that take us if uncorrected? The big search and social companies must do more to sustain the economics of real journalism.”
Once again reiterating the fiction that without the old media’s ability to cultivate quality journalism, we will all be lost to the nihilistic abyss of internet “fake news”. It is a testament to the supreme arrogance of this faded corruptocracy that Thompson — the man who hired Glenn Thrush from Politco, a self-admitted hack journalist who lets establishment politicians edit his stories— publicly engages in such moaning, disclaiming his own failure to adapt and instead offering the pathetic narrative that he alone can save us from manipulative narrative-as-news.
This view dismisses the rising tide of alternative right-wing media outlets as being a disastrous turn for the worse, rather than as evidence of enormous demand for alternatives to an incumbent media, widely viewed as corrupted by political and corporate power. And the inconvenient fact that these upstart independents have succeeded despite an active campaign of repression from platforms like Google, Apple, Twitter, and Facebook, as well their corporate ad-backers, is ignored.
But the idea that our democracy is “[dying] in the darkness” left by mainstream media’s absence has increasingly been echoed by a liberal academia which finds itself helpless to arrest the collapsing moral and political virtue of the people. This consensus academic view was echoed forcefully at the Tow Center panel by Zeynep Tufekci, an assistant professor and “techno-sociologist” at UNC Chapel Hill:
“The problem isn’t engagement. It is that platforms have been ‘just giving people what they want.’”
Oh my. And here’s the crux of the problem for these dinosaurs: Facebook has allowed people to express themselves and challenge received opinion! And this is no digital Arab Spring — a technologically-enabled populist uprising to be cheered — but an ignorant rejection of the received wisdom of moral and intellectual betters. To her credit, Zeynep Tufekci seems to understand the dimensions of the conflicts in modern media well — but true to her elitist-technocratic leanings, she still sees the answer as being an ever-greater police action to regulate the hearts and minds of Americans.
These intellectual authoritarians fear that the open-ended information market of today will reach an equilibrium consensus they find unacceptable, and believe the answer is to insure that we are all made to read the ‘correct’ sources of information.
“The average human type will rise to the heights of an Aristotle, a Goethe, or a Marx. And above this ridge new peaks will rise.”
— Leon Trotsky, Literature & Revolution (1924)
These progressive futurists demand a purge of potentially spurious outlets and the imposition of vast controls to regulate potentially dangerously ignorance; the outcome being a more streamlined, “factually correct” worldview guided by Facebook, its chosen media partners, and the legions of social justice warriors cheering them on.
But the problem isn’t America’s ignorance. It’s the supreme arrogance of the real fake news: the decrepit corporate oligopoly that is the incumbent media, which despite their overwhelming innumeracy and conformity of thought, continue to believe that they alone can tell Americans which views and opinions are correct.
This call-to-action for a deeper intervention was perhaps best represented at the Tow Center panel by the the bright-eyed, techno-utopian editor of Condé Nast’s Wired Magazine, Nicholas Thompson:
… whose habit was to follow stark statements about the state of journalism with an encouraging, “Let’s solve it tonight!” — [Thompson] was concerned about what type of content is incentivized by social platforms such as Facebook. Social media prioritizes content that gets liked and shared most over deeper reporting. They could shift this model, Thompson said. Even a decision to privilege true information over false would make a huge difference. What social media deems successful has even begun to affect trust in journalists. When a journalist becomes more politically vocal on Twitter, this bumps his or her brand in the short term.
This is an enormously elitist and fundamentally anti-democratic perspective utterly ignorant of the technologically-enabled reality that anyone with a “pen and a phone”, so to speak, can produce high quality investigative journalism today. The fact that independent lone wolves like Mike Cernovich, a man labelled by the pathetic access journalists at 60 Minutes as the personification of “fake news”, can repeatedly break stories the mainstream media has ignored belies the supposed need for a dominant media aristocracy to speak truth to power.
Those of us who might admit to reading alternative “fake news” outlets view this fracturing of the media environment positively, not believing the outgoing incumbent media to have been an omniscient paragon of excellence to be mourned.
Because at bottom, the idea that the media universe is broken seems to be a narrowly partisan one, and the proposed solutions authoritarian in their impulse.
“In a democracy, trust must be earned. It cannot be imposed.”
“The MSM has awakened to the reality that the monopoly they once held on a captive audience has eroded to the point of ineffectiveness.
— In 1964, the media could easily convince the American people that the Vietnam misadventure was “necessary.”
— The media could still sell the American people that the Iraq misadventure was also “necessary” in 2002.
— In 2016, the media went “all-out” to sell the inevitability and rightness of a Hillary Clinton presidency. What should have been a slam dunk ended up in defeat.
The fundamental dynamic here is the transition from a captive audience in thrall to a handful of media corporations to a radically democratized media.”
To this decidedly more optimistic and individualistic view, we don’t need Facebook to play a greater role in regulating content in order to combat the new online media free-for-all, nor do we need Mark Zuckerberg’s digital administrative state to help screen and interpret the news for us.
For what they bemoan is the looming death of the liberal-media academic consensus which has ruled America for decades now, giving us a virtually unending succession of elitist globalist Presidents. Under their watch, our political leaders have progressively abandoned the interests of working-class Americans in favor of a laissez-faire immigration and trade policy and an authoritarian administrative state. The ‘access’ media has stood by and cheered all the while as the politicians they pander to have destroyed wages and opportunity for all those outside of the narrow beltway which they almost universally call home. Only as Donald Trump has emerged to challenge this consensus have they suddenly found a reason to disclaim the collapse of the old media’s journalistic standards, which dates back to the beginnings of the 24-hour cable news era.
And so we can come to see Facebook’s abrupt about-face as being a wholly rational move — one which benefits the company’s economic interests and which flatteringly empowers it to take on a new social-activist role.
Because Facebook is obviously not ignorant of the democratizing nature of its social platform; it just has come to realize that this democratic impulse may not always be in the direction it desires. Moreover, they’ve realized that it it’s in their economic interest to empower the depleted remnant of the mainstream media so as to better bind them to Facebook’s content ecosystem. And from this perspective, any excuse to suppress independent media challengers, who tellingly, are much less referral-dependent on Facebook than mainstream incumbents, becomes a rational profit-maximizing strategy.
“Social media is not only where we distribute our journalism; it’s where we do our journalism.”
Facebook has realized the futility of passively denying the existence of its monopoly and is now outlining a plan which promises to compensate for and socially justify its increasingly extensive reach. The company’s desired endgame now seems to be to reconstitute the traditional media oligopoly, restoring the influence of mainstream outlets in the name of combatting “fake news”, but with itself astride the emergent colossus, wetting its beak to the tune of 30% of ad revenues. Facebook wants to dictate standards and regulate the distribution of content in the name of good taste, probity, and accuracy, and sees the cries of media and academia as convenient justification for its expanded role.
As part of Facebook’s acknowledgement of its new activist role, and perhaps reflecting the amount of time he is reportedly devoting to virtual reality, the Zuck recently published a bizarrely millenarian manifesto along these lines, amounting to a 5,000+ word missive celebrating his globalist-utopian vision.
In it, he calls for Facebook to provide a digital substitute for a social reality increasingly recognized as being utterly denuded of commitment, community, and meaning. Zuckerberg aspires to reverse the tide of darkness which has come to reject his dream of a “global community”, and increasingly sees Facebook’s role as being not just to traffic in personal information and ad units, but to compensate for all of the civic, moral, and social failings of the modern world.
For those skeptical as to whether a massively profitable corporate advertising and media-referral network unaccountable even to its own shareholders is our best hope for the future, the Zuck assures us that the platform will be open to all, each according to his ability, each according to his needs. Fake news mongers and peddlers of ‘controversial’ or ‘hateful’ opinions need not apply.
In exchange, Facebook would like to impose its preferred vision of the social-media world: an open and “neutral”, globalist platform representing a veritable Online United Nations, where the reporting of the news is safely left in the hands of credentialed representatives of the mainstream media. This digital community, fully realized, will naturally be an upgrade to our existing world, thanks to Facebook’s vigorous policing of inaccurate, misinformed, and hateful content — and in this way, it represents something of a digital caliphate — an ordered techno-paradise free of deviant views and immoral behavior — or as the Zuck manifesto puts it:
“Facebook stands for bringing us closer together and building a global community. When we began, this idea was not controversial. Every year, the world got more connected and this was seen as a positive trend. Yet now, across the world there are people left behind by globalization, and movements for withdrawing from global connection. There are questions about whether we can make a global community that works for everyone, and whether the path ahead is to connect more or reverse course.”
Obviously, the answer is for all of us to connect more, and to do so exclusively using Facebook’s products.
In substance, Facebook’s move to stamp out the fake news menace has included tweaking its algorithm to take into account the number of “authentic” outlets reporting a story, systematically favoring stories covered by the mainstream consensus, while simultaneously adding a “heckler’s veto” feature to accelerate manual review of content. The arbitration of content on factual grounds, meanwhile, has been outsourced to neutral fact-checking services, helpfully provided by unopinionated organizations, largely funded and staffed by Democratic Party supporters.
Moreover, Facebook has enhanced efforts to centralize and police the flow of content based on subjective assessments of its validity and importance. Despite Facebook’s protestations of algorithmic neutrality, its human editors continue to play an enormous and utterly subjective role in determining which stories are promoted or suppressed — and with the recent move in January to abandon a personalized NewsFeed in favor of a unified feed for one’s region, Facebook has consciously narrowed its funnel in order to prevent aberrant stories from trending.
And so enters into the picture the Facebook Journalism Project, the other half of Facebook’s pre-emptive sop to stave off regulatory action and placate its media vassals. It promises to compensate for the near-total destruction of journalistic integrity by providing educational and training resources to Facebook’s preferred media partners — again, with the help of a reliably left-wing non-profit with close ties to the Obama administration. In doing so, Facebook nobly volunteers to take on the additional burden of training and certifying journalists so as to better prevent deviants from swaying the masses. But this is just the latest self-serving act of “corporate social responsibility” from Facebook, a company so self-consciously parasitic it feels the need to commission reports tallying up all of the good it does.
Because why on Earth should we trust Facebook, a business stolen by its founder, who, in his own words, “fuck[ed]” his business partners “in the ear”? This is the social network which, at the behest of the Pakistani government, purged 80,000+ blasphemers, and which is working to develop censorship and surveillance tools sufficiently powerful to appease the Chinese dictatorship. Facebook has shown that it will bow to whatever powers that may be and that economic interests will always come first, despite all of its nauseating acts of corporate virtue signaling.
Because it cannot be said that Facebook does not have its own self-serving political agenda. With one of the youngest workforces in the corporate world, Facebook is perhaps the epitome of the modern Millennial-Progressive company, as reflected in its fundamentalist vision of an internet free of hate, disinformation, and lies.
Facebook has, like Google, taken every opportunity to throw its nauseatingly empty Bay Area progressivism in our faces, advocating for open borders and endless immigration, and even offering its low-skilled employees the “right to protest” in the form of days off for attending anti-Trump rallies. This stance, of course, has nothing to do with its own desire to import the lowest cost technical labor possible, as suggested by its Labor Department-status as an H-1B dependent employer. And Facebook feels no problems endorsing candidates who want to soak us in ever-higher levels of tax enslavement, while dodging its own tax bill.
Facebook represents the height of Silicon Valley elitism, and to a much greater extent than with the insidious Google, users have the option of simply walking away. This humble patriot did so years ago, and hasn’t missed it for a moment. Users suspicious of The Facebook’s intentions would be well advised to deactivate their accounts and move as far away as possible from this looming globalist behemoth. To do otherwise is to donate $20 a year to advancing Mark Zuckerberg’s delusional vision of a techno-globalist utopia, and offer a vote in favor of his self-appointed role as overlord of the digital media commons.