Last week Facebook offered up the latest variation on its rationale for not removing sources like Infowars and others from its site, despite the history of those outlets engaging in rampant evidence-free conspiracy mongering and the clear spreading of falsehoods: Free speech. The company is essentially claiming it’s a champion for the free exchange of ideas because it won’t unilaterally decide that this or that is objectively false.
Many media commentators pointed out the company is motivated to avoid such claims because doing so would put it in the position or making an editorial judgment, which would thoroughly deflate its insistence it is *not* a media company. Instead of complete removal, it will simply deprecate the rankings of sites flagged by users.
What, exactly, is the difference?
Any action is one that’s based in part on editorial reasoning. That includes total banishment as well as simply taking it down a peg or two. They are both the result of someone deciding that the situation warrants that site not being as prominent in people’s feeds.
Facebook may try to hide again behind the “it’s the algorithm making the call” defense, but as has been noted regularly, algorithms are written by human beings and reflect their judgment, so it holds that it is the judgment of human beings being executed.
While forces on both the right and left continue to cry “favoritism” and offer their own definition of journalism is the correct one even as many media owners worry the site caters too much to the conservative end of the spectrum.
Adding to the confusion, Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg seems to find some difference between those who claim the Sandy Hook shooting actually happened and those who deny the Holocaust. The former is obviously lying or spreading misinformation but, he says, the latter is just out there asking questions and not acting in bad faith. Zuckerberg later tried to clarify his stance, but it didn’t address the core issue.
Again, if he or anyone else can parse the actual points of differentiation between those two, I’m all ears. Taken at their most basic level, the two are born of the same conspiratorial mindset, designed to sow doubt and indoctrinate the skeptical or poorly-informed into more radical ideologies.
As I and many others have pointed out repeatedly over the last several years, *all* decisions are editorial decisions. That we’ve gone this long allowing Facebook and others to operate under the fiction that they’re technology and not media companies is astounding and we should put an end to it immediately.
More than that, to continue to believe they are interested in anything other than their own financial future is naive at best. If Facebook or any other company is showing a clear desire to capitulate to conservative fever swamp theories, it’s because they’re better that’s the path to continued revenue. They will let democracy burn as long as the checks keep clearing.
Chris Thilk is a freelance writer and content strategist who lives in the Chicago suburbs.