You may have heard that Google is refusing advertising on what it calls “fake news sites.”
The shifts comes as Google, Facebook and Twitter Inc face a backlash over the role they played in the U.S. presidential election by allowing the spread of false and often malicious information that might have swayed voters toward Republican candidate Donald Trump.
Great news. Though just as many voters would have been swayed towards his opponent by broadcasts from the likes of the Clinton News Network (CNN) and the New York Times, which has all-but admitted it publishes advocacy instead of news and, according to one former senior staffer, makes up its news-slant a whole year in advance.
Given the behaviour of the mainstream media in this election season, one has to question whether many of these folks can be seriously considered journalists any longer. Gone was even the pretence of unbiased, fair and accurate reporting. MSNBC, CNN, ABC, CBS, NBC, the Washington Post, New York Times, USA Today, the Associated Press and others all pushed a positive slant in their coverage of Hillary Clinton. There was scant coverage of her email problems, Benghazi, the Clinton Foundation, and her seemingly endless prevarication.
As Wikileaks revealed in the slow rollout of John Podesta emails, there was even collusion with the Clinton campaign and several media outlets such as Politico and CNN. These were ethical breeches of the first degree. The people involved should be barred from the business, but none were fired or even disciplined for their transgressions.
Add this together with both candidates’ multiple lies this election season, oft-backed up by reporters willing to lie for them (Hannity here being a prime example, but hardly alone in that) lies that would have outstripped the ability of any honest fact-checker to sort out (rather than issuing Pinocchios, it would have been far easier simply to signal the few times when candidates told the truth), and you have all the ingredients for everyone being grievously misinformed by both mainstream media (who long ago straying from the ethic of “Just the facts, ma’am”) and minor mavens posting anonymously from Macedonia.
So what can one do in this era of post-truth politics? Decent intellectual hygiene demand that one handle all news from whatever source with tongs. That we remember those sources who who at least state their bias and simply select their facts, rather than manufacture them – and read widely among these sources to find all the facts, if you can (like news of the buses that have apparently transported many of this week’s spontaneous anti-Trump protestors). That we remember those for whom facts are too often too slippery; and avoid altogether those whose modus operandi is putting out outright sludge. That we check sites like Snopes if something does appear too good to be true (but remember all such sites have their own political bias).
I doubt I’ll agree with everyone on Google’s ban list, but this at least appears a good start – for some time here I’ve been avoiding posting their memes myself. I suggest you do too:
Add to that MSM sources like RT and CNN, and you have a very good start (and a guide to what will not be linked here, even in your comments.
PS: Just to respond to an obvious question: No, this is not censorship – and anyone who claims it is knows nothing about what censorship is:
“Censorship” is a term pertaining only to governmental action. No private action is censorship. No private individual or agency can silence a man or suppress a publication; only the government can do so. The freedom of speech of private individuals includes the right not to agree, not to listen and not to finance one’s own antagonists.
Nor to sanction the peddling of falsehood as fact.
UPDATE: Useful thoughts on the proposal from a Facebook friend:
Big internet companies trying to do your fact-checking for you creeps me out but I think there are ways that it could be done without getting Orwellian.
In terms of "fake news" (a phrase I hate almost as much as "crony capitalism"), here's what I recommend the big internet companies such as Facebook do:
If an algorithm determines that a post is fake, put some kind of word or icon next to the link to indicate that. Clicking that icon then provides you with information for *why* the algorithm determined it was likely fake (such as links to or excerpts from snopes, FactCheck, Wikipedia etc). Given that [IBM’s] Watson can answer Jeopardy questions and provide the reasons why it gave the answer it does, I assume this kind of thing must be possible.
Facebook users can then determine for themselves whether they agree with the assessment of the algorithm. If they decide that the algorithm usually gets it right, then that build trust. If they decide they don't agree with it, then they are no worse off than they were before.
This feature could even be opt-in. Users could be encouraged to "try our new fact-checking algorithm."
Perhaps you could even have your own custom weighting of which sources you consider most reliable. So, users could say "I trust FactCheck.org 0.9 but snopes only 0.4" or something. That would probably require a lot more computation because then everyone's getting custom results, but might not be so bad if most people use the default settings.
I suppose this doesn't really solve the "trending topics" problem, but I think it would be a good step in the right direction.