Facebook does us all a disservice

Facebook’s anarchy may be its downfall

I use it, but I hate it.

That’s how I feel about Facebook.

Unlike most things you hate, it’s actually pretty difficult to just ditch Facebook.

Why?

Because it (and to a lesser or equal extent, Twitter) has become integral to how we stay in touch with our community, whether it be our family and friends or our public officials or civic clubs. It’s become the primary way to get word out on community events, contests and even school lunches.

That part of it I actually like. I share pictures of my kids, catch up with friends and family who live far away and conveniently contact people whom I want to interview. I’ve even used Facebook to interview sources for various stories.

But there’s also the part that really makes me hate it: It’s a hive of misinformation that I (and many others) believe is used to push falsehoods and establish public narratives based on falsehoods.

Last week, I feel like that feeling was validated when Facebook News Feed head John Hegeman said “something false “doesn’t violate community standards.”

This was in regards to a question about Infowars, the conspiracy theory site of water filter and supplement salesman Alex Jones. Infowars, and sites like it, have for years used the social media platform to spread sometimes dangerous falsehoods. The list of things that Infowars has pushed onto the public ranges from 9/11 trutherism to claims that the Sandy Hook (as well as other) shootings were “false flags” to most recently Pizzagate.

Soon after Hegeman said that falsehoods don’t violate Facebook’s standards, founder and CEO Mark Zuckerberg stated that Facebook would not even remove posts by Holocaust deniers.

“I don’t believe that our platform should take that down because I think there are things that different people get wrong. I don’t think that they’re intentionally getting it wrong,” Zuckerberg said.

That’s an astounding statement, going beyond misinformation and denying verifiable reality itself. That is what Facebook has now become a platform for.

Essentially, Facebook is anarchy when it comes to information, no matter if it’s fake or factual. It doesn’t matter.

Before the age of Facebook, these conspiracy theory sites were limited in reach. Sure, they had an established following online, but they were relegated to the dark corner of the internet where tin foil hats and reptilian watchers lurked, sending filibusters of text to anyone who dare crossed them.

With the explosion of Facebook and Twitter, that conspiracy theory movement found a way into the light of day, becoming part of the public discourse in a way that they weren’t less than a decade before.

Many of these conspiracy theory sites, with Infowars probably being the most adept, intermingled conspiracy theories with news. That news, though, was delivered in such a way where that insinuation and hyperbole were used to distort them in such a way that people received a false interpretation of the news.

But, there was an audience for it and people ate it up. These news sites moved from the fringes into the center of discussion, with some of them leading to media empires for their creators, such as the aforementioned Infowars and other sites like Natural News.

A lot of people just aren’t equipped to recognize it. I’m not saying this is because they’re dumb, but Americans just don’t seem to have been given the tools at a young age to disseminate the insidious way conspiracy theorists push their news.

It’s thanks to sites like these that people have come to distrust facts, even when you show them a video or present a reputable source. The diehard adherents of these sites will often look at something and just make up their own conspiracy theory to explain why what you’re showing them is “fake.” No matter how good your sources are, how obvious your video might be and no matter what they see with what their own eyes, they don’t let it get in the way of what they want to believe.

I don’t get it. But, working in journalism, I guess facts have more weight to me than theories of elaborate schemes to deceive the public. Even when I hold a belief dear to my heart or wish something to be true, I have to respect the facts. I can’t blame shadow actors behind the scenes trying to manipulate humanity for something I want to believe not being true.

It’s because of this that I think that Facebook does us all a great disservice. They claim to be supporting free speech, but what they’re doing is giving a megaphone to people who would shout “fire!” in a crowded movie theater. I’m not sure if they believe that losing the tin-foil hat demographic will cause their company to collapse or if they’re just scared of the “C” (censorship) word, but their unwillingness to do anything shows an unwillingness to step up and be good corporate citizens.

Time will catch up to Facebook eventually, though. While it’s the primary social media used by older adults and older millennials, it’s lost a lot of ground with the up-and-coming generation of young adults and teenagers who favor platforms like Tumblr, Snapchat and Facebook-owned Instagram. Others, may turn to open-source and noncommercial competitors like Mastodon and Ello, which I both consider to be good, if somewhat flawed, platforms. Eventually, Facebook may find itself a ghost town, much like MySpace and Friendster.

Weirdo who writes futurist-tinged columns about technology and science’s impact on society by night. Unfortunately, 2020 compels me to do politics too.

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