I’m no fan of Mark Zuckerberg. He so often comes off as entitled and hypocritical that it’s hard for me to take him seriously. Yet this summer, I joined Facebook after years of resistance so I could stay in contact with some dear friends (including one who is no longer a friend and is now referred to by another friend and me as 💩 … and here I thought I’d never have a use for the poop emoji) as well as family I couldn’t visit because of the pandemic (and because, frankly, I hate to travel).
Am I upset when I see a post that’s been fact-checked? Nah, because I’m an advocate of fact-checking, and I double-check anything I might want to repost before actually doing so (I typically only repost fact-checkers and news services, with a few cute animals thrown in because, duh, they’re freakin’ adorable). I’ve reported more than a few posts as fake news. I’ve also irritated a few friends by posting fact-checks on their posts, though most know I do it not to embarrass them, but because truth is important to me.
When you’re friends with or related to someone who spent most of her career in news before moving to opinion (for the office, more stable schedule and a little pay bump), you get used to it.
I understand why some people think it’s ridiculous that fact-checkers sometimes check jokes and Internet memes, and in normal times, it would be ridiculous. These are not normal times.
You have no idea how much I’m looking forward to my blood pressure not rising with each easily disproven lie that people somehow believe.
As an example, a recent Reuters fact-check noted:
“Users on social media are sharing an article that claims President Donald Trump will sign a law to make the United States a ‘Christian Nation.’ The article is satirical, but some users appear to have … misinterpreted it as being authentic. …
“While some of the users’ comments note that the article is satire, others appear to take the content seriously, with comments like: ‘Jackass! What about separation of church and state? We are not ALL a Christian nation! We are a nation of many different faiths! Idiot!’ and ‘This is one of the few things Trump has done that I do not agree with at all. But I still support him regardless.’”“Fact check: Article about Trump signing a law to make the U.S. a ‘Christian Nation’ is satire,” Reuters.
The piece was from satire site America’s Last Line of Defense, which since its inception in 2016 as a joke by Christopher Blair “and a few other liberal bloggers who wanted to make fun of what they considered to be extremist ideas spreading throughout the far right,” according to The Washington Post, has become one of the most popular Facebook pages for Trump supporters over 55, despite being clearly marked as satire and with a disclaimer: “Paid Liberal Trolls of America is responsible for this Page.” A 2018 profile in The Post (well worth the read; click link above) quoted Blair as saying, “The more extreme we become, the more people believe it.”
One need only a cursory glance at a Facebook newsfeed to see that many people have problems discerning truth from fiction and satire from straight news (and hell, opinion and news …. if I had a nickel …). You’ll find manipulated video that claims Joe Biden fell asleep during a live interview (it was patched together from an interview with Harry Belafonte, who did fall asleep, and a Hillary Clinton endorsement video in which Biden looked down for a few seconds). You’ll see out-of-context quotes and images, or outright fake quotes, such as the Donald Trump quote about Republicans (no, he didn’t tell People magazine in 1998 that Republicans are the dumbest voters).
When confronted about posts like these, those who posted them will usually say they were jokes, but some posting them truly believe, and you know that there are people in their audience who will believe as well, especially, it seems, if they are hyperpartisan (they’ll also try the “opinion” gambit, forgetting that the “facts” those opinions are based on should be fact-checked). Try cruising the America’s Last Line of Defense Facebook page if you don’t believe me … and then find a box for your dashed hopes of civility and intelligence.
That’s what makes it necessary to fact-check jokes. We did this to ourselves by appealing to the lowest common denominator. We have shown ourselves willing to believe the most outlandish things, and to be easily led as long as those things confirm what we believe to be true.
Confirmation bias’ spread just keeps getting away from us, just like covid-19.
Which is why a large segment of our population is under the impression that there was massive fraud in the recent election, despite assurances from people in authority that no evidence of widespread fraud has been found, as well as obvious holes in theories about a stolen election (seriously, if the fix was in, wouldn’t Mitch McConnell and Lindsey Graham have been defeated?).
“One of the Republican criticisms of social media is that its algorithms push down conservative content. But that isn’t borne out by the data for Facebook.
“Data from CrowdTangle, a public insights tool owned by Facebook, puts together the most popular posts for each day on Facebook. On any given day the top 10 most popular political posts are dominated by right-leaning commentators like Dan Bongino and Ben Shapiro, along with posts by Fox News and President Trump. Mr. Trump’s Facebook page has 32 million followers, nearly 10 times more than his Democratic challenger in next month’s election, Joe Biden.
“If the accusation is Facebook suppresses right-wing content, it doesn’t seem to do it very well.”“Social media: Is it really biased against US Republicans?” James Clayton, BBC.
Regardless, many conservatives say they’re abandoning Facebook and Twitter for services like Parler that claim that pretty much anything goes. Because apparently their bubble wasn’t small enough. An echo chamber where only what you agree with is allowed, with no pesky fact-checks? What could possibly go wrong? I mean, other than more people refusing to accept reality.
I hear reality is a bitch. Plus, it likes to hang out with things like enforcement of social media terms of service/community standards (Facebook bans misrepresentation on voting, for example, though enforcement has been spotty) and point out that if you don’t agree with the terms of service, you can always go somewhere else. Pssshhhh.
Shannon McGregor, a professor at the University of North Carolina-Chapel Hill, told The New York Times she was doubtful such defections would be permanent. “If there is no one to argue with, no omnipresent journalists or media entities to react to, how long will it last?” she said.
And there’s also the possibility that the outgoing president could go even more scorched-earth and create an executive order to gut Section 230 of the Communications Decency Act (he can’t really, but I’m sure he thinks he can), which protects companies like Facebook and Twitter from liability for what users publish on their platforms. Getting rid of that section, which has been credited with creating the modern Internet, would probably result in even stricter terms of service for any platform used by the public for publication, all in order to avoid lawsuits. And, as Rep. Justin Amash tweeted Tuesday: “Note that it isn’t possible for the government to require Twitter, Facebook, or anyone else to make politically ‘neutral’ (i.e., content-based) moderation decisions, no matter how you change Section 230, without violating the First Amendment.”
That pesky First Amendment (which, remember, applies to what government can and can’t do, not private companies). Why can’t it be more like the Second Amendment with its “shall not be infringed” crowd? (Incidentally, the Second Amendment seems to be the one originalists seem to ignore … I mean, if we’re going with the original intentions, where are all those well-regulated militias?)
Some people do want to try to understand their fellow humans and will engage in actual discussion, as did a friend from high school recently who disagreed with me. Some, though, are only interested in fighting, usually with name-calling, tired memes and debunked talking points.
Which means they’ll probably be back after not finding any takers on Parler. Sigh. Give me strength.
And chocolate. Lots of chocolate.