Facebook And False Equivalence

Is it just me, or do the months between now and November seem interminable?

In the run-up to what will be an existentially-important decision for America’s future, we are living through an inconsistent, contested and politicized quarantine, mammoth protests triggered by a series of racist police murders of unarmed black men, and their   cynical escalation into riots by advocates of race war, and daily displays of worsening insanity from the White House–including, but certainly not limited to, America’s withdrawal from the World Health Organization in the middle of a pandemic followed by a phone call in which our “eloquent” President called governors “weak” and “jerks” for not waging war on their own citizens.

And in the midst of it all, a pissing match between the Psychopath-in-Chief and Twitter, which has finally–belately–decided to label some of Trump’s incendiary and inaccurate tweets for what they are.

We can only hope this glimmer of responsibility from Twitter continues. The platform’s unwillingness to apply the same rules to Trump that they apply to other users hasn’t just been cowardly–it has given his constant lies a surface plausibility and normalized his bile. We should all applaud Twitter’s belated recognition of its responsibility.

Then, of course, there’s Facebook.

It isn’t that Mark Zuckerberg is unaware of the harms being caused by Facebooks current algorithms. Numerous media outlets have reported on the company’s internal investigations into the way those algorithms encourage division and distort political debate. In her column last Sunday’s New York Times, Maureen Dowd reported

The Wall Street Journal had a chilling report a few days ago that Facebook’s own research in 2018 revealed that “our algorithms exploit the human brain’s attraction to divisiveness. If left unchecked,” Facebook would feed users “more and more divisive content in an effort to gain user attention & increase time on the platform.”

Mark Zuckerberg shelved the research.

The reasons are both depressing and ironic: in addition to concerns that less vitriol might mean users spending less time on the site, Zuckerberg understands that reducing the spread of untrue, divisive content would require eliminating substantially more material from the right than the left, opening the company to accusations of bias against conservatives.

Similar fears are said to be behind Facebook’s unwillingness to police political speech in advertisements and posts.

Think about it: Facebook knows that its platform is enormously influential. It know that the Right trades in conspiracy theories and intentional misinformation to a much greater extent than the Left, skewing the information landscape in dangerous ways. But for whatever reason– in order to insulate the company from regulation, or to curry favor with wealthy investors, or to escape the anger of the Breitbarts and Limbaughs–not to mention Trump–it has chosen to “allow people to make their own decisions.”

The ubiquity of social media presents lawmakers with significant challenges. Despite all the blather from the White House and the uninformed hysteria of ideologues, the issue isn’t censorship or freedom of speech–as anyone who has taken elementary civics knows, the Bill of Rights prohibits government from censoring communication. Facebook and Twitter and other social media sites aren’t government. For that matter, under current law, they aren’t even considered “publishers” who could be held accountable for whatever inaccurate drivel a user posts.

That means social media companies have the right to dictate their own terms of use. There is no legal impediment to Facebook or Twitter “censoring” posts they consider vile, obscene or untrue. (Granted, there are significant practical and marketing concerns involved in such an effort.) On Monday, reports emerged that Facebook’s own employees–including several in management–are clamoring for the platform to emulate Twitter’s new approach.

There have always been cranks and liars, racists and political propagandists. There haven’t always been easily accessible, worldwide platforms through which they could connect with similarly twisted individuals and spread their poisons. One of the many challenges of our technological age is devising constitutionally-appropriate ways to regulate those platforms.

If Mark Zuckerberg is unwilling to make FaceBook at least a minimally-responsible overseer of our national conversation–if he and his board cannot make and enforce reasonable rules about veracity in posts, a future government will undoubtedly do it for them–something that could set a dangerous precedent.

Refusing to be responsible– supporting a false equivalency that is tearing the country apart– is a much riskier strategy than Zuckerberg seems to recognize.

On the other hand, it finally seems to be dawning on Jack Dorsey, CEO of Twitter, that (as Dowd put it in her column)”Trump and Twitter were a match made in hell.”


  1. Zuckerberg is just another tool for capitalism run amok. If he gave a single damn about the well-being of this country, he would have an entire staff of sanity checkers that investigate the idiocy of the conspiracy wankers. But no…. Profits first. Country’s health? Well, that’s negotiable.

    While our president goes full third-world dictator and our democracy teeters on the brink of anarchy, a lethal pandemic and now civil discord we haven’t seen since 1968, the slimy capitalists like Zuckerberg rake in the money, flaunt their power and otherwise behave like a nation unto himself.

    Sadly, I will have to use Facebook as a major vector for selling my upcoming novels.

  2. Facebook: It seems like Fox on a different platform. As long as they can make money from this, they will do it. Sad. But three cheers for Twitter.
    It is also LONG past time that the real media STOP repeating lies. They need to stop, look into the camera and say:
    “BUT THIS IS NOT TRUE” after they air one of the Trumpist lies. Fact check these liars in real time. Or a flashing red box “NOT TRUE” when Trump is spreading his BS. Truth matters.

  3. Vernon,

    “Sadly, I will have to use Facebook as a major vector for selling my upcoming novels.”

    That’s a major problem. It has to be surmounted. See “digital mcluhan: a guide to the information millennium” by Paul Levinson (Routledge, London, 1999):

    From the front flap, “We see how the Internet, in which every computer is a center for producing as well as obtaining information, is the true embodiment of McLuhan’s vision of decentralization. Levinson explores the consequences of this revolution on everything from publishing to politics, where the “GATEKEEPERS” of old are giving away to new modes of business.”

    “The medium is the message” is a phrase coined by the Canadian communication thinker Marshall McLuhan and introduced in his Understanding Media: The Extensions of Man, published in 1964. McLuhan proposes that a communication medium itself, not the messages it carries, should be the primary focus of study. Wikipedia

  4. Mark Zuckerberg belongs to the club that believes in the quote attributed to Leo Durocher, former manager of the Brooklyn Dodgers back in 1946: “Nice guys finish last.”

    I’m beginning to think maybe he’s right.

  5. I have to use Facebook because family and friends, with few exceptions, have turned to Facebook for personal contact and no longer use E-mail. The same is true of businesses who now want contact by phone; being deaf, that is not a viable option for me and hundreds of thousands of others in this country. And businesses who no longer use E-mail are discriminating against the handicapped which is protected by the Reasonable Accommodations section of the Americans with Disabilities Act.

    We have to wade through, hide posts or block senders in many cases but Facebook is beneficial in many ways. I received political campaign information from candidates I would not otherwise have access to. The Star is defunct and local news channels devote little time to politics…or local news for that matter. Not playing Devil’s Advocate here but wouldn’t blocking the ugliness of Trump post be denying freedom of speech. They are not like yelling “fire” in a crowded theater, they are simply his ugly lying world views.

  6. It may be that part of our problem is the unwillingness of people to file libel suits against 45 and include FaceBook in the suit as a willling purveyor of the libel.

  7. I just finished last year’s book “Zucked” written by Roger McNamee, a Facebook investor and early mentor to Zuckerberg. So yesterday, my 68th birthday and one that reminded me eerily of 1968, I quietly and permanently deleted my Facebook account after 12 years. I really believe Zuck subscribes to the pure libertarian philosophy of Silicon Valley, Peter Theil (his first investor) and Ayn Rand. And his company’s algorithms are designed to maximize eyeballs and clicks that drive growth in ad revenue, damn the consequences, even that of destroying global democracy. Instagram (another Facebook property only because of lax antitrust enforcement by the last 5 administrations is a far better platform for sharing family photos and commentary. So for better or worse you’re stuck with my comments here. ☮️

  8. Also, I would love to hear your thoughts on the following in a future post: 1968 vs 2020 – which is worse? I have my own thoughts and have been arguing my position with ppl on Twitter.

  9. There are alternate social media platforms. One in particular is MeWe . I joined last fall then neglected it until finally I decided that being on Facebook puts money in Mark Zuckerberg’s already gargantuan bank account. I am finished with Facebook. If people want to be in touch with me I can receive texts.

  10. Sheila,

    Can you or any of us really believe there’s any sort of equivalency to those wealthy and influential participants in these platforms i.e. Twitter, Facebook, especially!

    Instagram and Pinterest are definitely platforms that are on a much more even keel fairness wise.

    How many people have we seen on Facebook and YouTube for that matter, famous for no other reason that they tend to be influencers, influencers supported by a gaggle of sheep trying to build something that they can all be a part of! Doesn’t matter if it’s good or bad, it’s ridiculous!

    You cannot win hearts and minds in 240 characters or less, but you can sure do a lot of damage! You sure can defame and tear down, and you can definitely bully very effectively!

    That’s why I’ve always said myself, if you want to have some sort of intelligent debate, you can’t limited to 240 characters or less, it doesn’t work! And I’m pleased to say, I’ve seen more folks on your blog move towards explanatory comments rather than short and haughty blurbs, and that separates you and your blog from many others Sheila! And for that, I know everyone is very appreciative.

    Mark Zuckerberg is the ultimate capitalist just looking for the buck, he is not looking for fairness, he’s not looking for honesty, he’s looking for information to sell, he’s looking for Ad Hoc Niches to exploit thereby enriching himself! He has no interest in fairness.

    Jack Dorsey, let Donald Trump run through the cotton gin with a can of kerosene and a torch for years, and now he wants to prevent him from starting fires? Wow, what took so long to grow a spine? Or a conscience for that matter!

    I was a kid in the 60s. I remember some of the stuff that is repeating now, as does my wife, but, MY understanding was not there. We saw our parents concerned but I myself did not understand the gravity of the situation, my wife was much more engaged than I was at the time, she had more of an understanding because her mother was definitely involved in some of those things (the bus boycott MLK marching and such) when she was younger, her Father was a Black Minister and her uncle Wayne was very much involved in the civil rights movement.

    I highly doubt if Mark Zuckerberg, or Jack Dorsey had to live through any of the things that we dealt with when we were younger, the discrimination, the grief, the understanding of the discrepancies between us and others, the lack of opportunities, and the monumental task of having to work much harder to try and achieve the same level, which was always right beyond reach, of respect and comfort.

    Because I am multiethnic, I had a lot of confusion, my wife is not multiethnic, she bore a brutal brunt of those times in the 60s by bigoted teachers, and lecherous teachers! And her parents tried to instill an uprightness in her to the point of being physically abusive ( punishments and butt whippings) at times. And I think that defeated the purpose completely. And by the way my father was a very harsh taskmaster, and I did not come away unscathed, he definitely took it way too far at times! Anyway, I digress.

    I doubt if Jack Dorsey or Mark Zuckerberg ever had to deal with any of these things, even though I’m sure they feel they’ve clawed their way out of the depths of despair to reach a pinnacle, only to walk on the remnants of stolen information and unfairness kind of like in the movie Terminator where the machines are rolling over the bones and skeletons which were the only things that remained of humanity! It’s a very stark visual, one that’s impersonal, and one that shows no, ZERO, zilch, compassion and or empathy for those who him and his ilk Used and sucked dry, Lying and smirking all the way to the bank!

  11. The first time (and the last) I was exposed to Facebook I was turned off by the oleaginous posts so I never joined the throng.
    Today’s posts give me assurance that I have missed almost nothing during the past decades. As the saying goes “ignorance is bliss”.

  12. I tried Facebook for two weeks. I found that most of the people (?) contacting me were trying to sell something or enlist me. After two weeks, I closed my account. Have never regretted it. I refuse to be marketed anymore. I want to research a particular topic on Google without having to watch a commercial or fight my way through click-bait. Same w television; there is little time left for content when you have 25 minutes of commercial time in a 60 minute program.

    I use Google reluctantly; I restrict my tv to 1 hour daily. I keep wishing that the tv news media would refuse to take Trump’s bait and stop covering every idiotic thing he does or says – like his walk to church for the Hitler photo-op. Let him wither and die in silence.

    Zuckerberg has the same moral compass as Trump; let him suffer the same fate. Unplug from Facebook, open you windows and shout I’m mad as hell and I’m not going to take it anymore.

  13. There are a variety of settings on Facebook and Twitter, which allow you to control what you see and don’t see, including “Unfriend” or “Unfollow.”

    I follow many pages that provide plenty of information I cannot get without looking them up independently–not very convenient. I know what’s out there, and when people post hate speech or share ignorant memes as facts, or share Fox News or Washington Times as facts, I have a choice to comment, ignore, unfollow, or unfriend.

    I like the freedom to make choices.

    I do believe that Twitter has backed down since Trump has attributed protests to Soros, Black Lives Matter, and Antifa. He even tweeted that he was going to declare Antifa a terrorist organization. He also made the statement that 80% of the arrests in Minneapolis were of people from out of town.

    Most of the above has been proven false, but no filter by Twitter or retractions by Trump.

    You have to watch the origins of propaganda to see how it flows. Fox News, Breitbart, Washington Times put their propaganda into the ether, followed by Trump and the GOP, including their sycophants.

    However, there is also plenty of propaganda from the supposed liberal media. It’s allowed to spew false statements or state propaganda — “sources who shall remain anonymous” or “sources close to the intelligence community” are commonly used state propaganda.

    What’s fascinating is if you take an anti-capitalism view like WWSW, you will be selectively throttled and defunded by all internet companies effectively censoring their message.

    Lots of distractions. All the media could ban together and choose to quash propaganda, but what would be remaining?

  14. As many have written here today, it is all about Capitalism. I see little difference with CNN, FOX and MSDNC all three have carved out their respective audiences and play to it, which of course generates profits. The same tired presenters are on night after night, along with their selected guests to interview, at least MSDNC finally got rid of Chris Matthews.

    The story about The Trumpet turning off the White House Lights and hiding in the Bunker became something of joke and he was ridiculed for it. Something had to be done for show. Thus, the walk to the church across from the White House. First of course the demonstrators had to be cleared out, with a show of force.

    Now some of the rabid followers of the Trumpet, see his walk to the church in DC as an act of bravery and an example of clearing the “rabble” from the streets. This is the way you governors and mayors should regain control: Tear Gas, Rubber Bullets, Flash Bang Grenades, and line of what looked like ancient Roman Legionnaires marching in lock step.

    The walk played well with The Trumpian bible thumper’s. Some of The Trumpter’s have compared his walk to Joshua at Jericho. After the walls came tumbling down, a war crime was committed against the people of Jericho.

    This act by the Trumpet of a walk to the church and holding up a bible was simply another publicity stunt to arouse the bible thumper’s. Message, I am under siege, but still the strong – Male-Macho-Authoritarian figure.

    The following was written by McKay Coppins is a staff writer at The Atlantic.

    “But, of course, sacredness has never been a concern of Trump’s. He didn’t open the Bible he was brandishing for the cameras, because he had no use for its text. He didn’t go inside the church he was using as a backdrop, because he had no interest in a sermon.

    To Trump, the Bible and the church are not symbols of faith; they are weapons of culture war. And to many of his Christian supporters watching at home, the pandering wasn’t an act of inauthenticity; it was a sign of allegiance—and shared dominance.”

  15. Zuck and others are teminal capitalists driven by libertarian theology, but present no problem if and when we have legislative and/or judicial redefinition of their so called private enterprise as one subject to the Bill of Rights, thus injecting publilc interest into their profit-driven business of money making. We may in a sense have to marginally curtail “free speech” by fleshing out just what the limits are or are not on a new version of “crying fire in a crowded theater” exception to such First Amendment right by adding a new dimension of “speech” – one in which the public interest and not mere profit making is served. Personally, I think spreading fascist propaganda and obvious lies are contra to the public interest whatever the definition of the spreader for profit and that such spreaders should not be able to hide behind interpretations of constitutional provisions which they are prone to ignore in the interest of profiteering, and if current law provides such cover – change the law.

  16. In a perfect world Facebook could be a catalog of human opinions at any small span in time but in its current form it falls miles short of that possibility. First of all only people who elect to spend time sharing their opinions that way are portrayed. Most of all though it is designed to filter opinions and present to each of us more opinions of people like each of us than others.

    It’s possible to get around that second limitation by joining groups focused on anyone’s opposition rather than supporting groups.

    I do that in a meager attempt to figure out how and why the opposition to climate science, what I consider to be sacred human knowledge of human attacks on living sustainably on earth, think and don’t think.

    It’s been very useful to me in that regard.

    So like all technology Facebook is not either good or bad but both depending on its use.

  17. It says something when Facebook hires folks from the gambling industry to ensure usage and addiction to their service. It is true. The people I have on my FB are close friends and family and it is such an easy convienent way to share pictures as oppose to email. I wish there is another venue. I too have been thinking of deleting my FB page.

  18. Social media will be among the clues these times will pass on to future times as a record of our darkest hours. Hopefully the people in those future times will be skilled at diagnosing the start and progress of the spreading chaos.

    Of course we haven’t written the ending yet.

  19. I suspect that I am employing a few in-equivalencies here, but I don’t see them, so here goes.

    I see Facebook in the same legal way I see my own page on Facebook. Even citing no legal technicalities, I calculate that I may decide what posts are allowed on my FB page. I can even dictate who can post on my page. Or I can permit any post on my page. In a sense I own my page, which I think gives me those “dictatorial” privileges. In a greater sense, in fact in every sense, Zuckerberg owns all of Facebook. In my simple reasoning that gives him the same dictatorial privileges I have, namely to decide what posts are permitted, or decide all posts are permitted, or anything in between.

    On the other hand, I am expected to field criticism of my decisions regarding posts on my page. I know of no law or rule I can cite that protects me from criticism on that issue. But I might through that criticism choose to weaken it by caving to it, or exacerbate it by flaunting my disregard of criticism. Surely, Zuckerberg has the same rights and responsibilities as well as permissions for actions and reactions that I have.

    Where am I wrong on that analysis? Where is the false equivalency?

  20. Id like to make one comment on trumps church of the almighty photo op…. im looking at a black and white pic.looking at the white,house. theres trumps,barr,milley and his goon squad.. that photo op maybe a BS scenrio. seems that walk may represent the first of a fascist push. seeing how and who, would speak out about it,and why.. Its reminisce of hitlers first gathering whereas,the police took down a few of his backers,leaving him to hide in the crowd..1928? im not going to get the books out,im on the road..but theres plenty of pics from that mob,whereas hitler was,in front.. if this didnt ring abell, maybe the press needs to be more up front on the reason,and do a better job on the issue,besides a photo op.. this is the most disturbing action ive seen yet,why,and how he started this walk.. i would have to wonder,if this was brushed aside,and ignored,purposely? what will the next play be? if i was in congress,id have requested a immediate assembly,and discussed that move.. where are they at? all of them, and why hasnt a damn one of them made a issue of it..this maybe the start,of the end game. maybe a vote in november isnt likely.. best wishes..

    lets calm down, lets protest,sans the violence, play some music,like we did in 1970, play those songs,and march peacefully, with all the people outta work and obviously,we can social distance,bring the masses out,peacefully,fill the streets, talk to the cops, and be respectful. a mass encounter,in numbers,above any thing trump has ever seen, couldnt be denied..
    the public airwaves were dismantled when king george the second decided we couldnt play anti war music again to support his lasting invaisions,like the 60/70s the local rock stations had the people wanting change,via its content,peaceful,and joyful,with a desire to hold the hand and help another,above the shit weve been handed..
    heres a old one, and if it dosent bring a tear to ones eye, see you tube,
    Abraham,Martin,and John… damn ,cried for a hour after that.. newark,nj, 60s i was there, please lets end this catastrophe. best wishes to all…

  21. Larry, good analysis. It seems right on to me but perhaps there are factors beyond legal.

    To me one such consideration is to compare it to the gun rights issue. At the moment I’m not aware of legal requirements that dictate gun ownership limits. (I also don’t agree with that as a correct interpretation of the 2ond Ammendment but cannot argue that it’s not interpreted today in ways that restrict ownership.)

    Does that settle the issue? I think that a few hundred dead school children would argue that our thinking should not only be what’s legal today but what’s sensible to protect our children and each other. No?

    Same with social media. If it can be weaponized as a tool that destabilizes society it is something that deserved sensible regulation.

    It would be nice if Zuckerberg did it voluntarily but in the absence of that government regulation is earned.

  22. Nice sentiment Jack!
    You can’t go wrong with any of those 70s ditty’s, war, Marvin Gaye, Bob Dylan, Chicago, Seals and Croft, Gladys Knight, Roberta flack, Aretha Franklin, Simon & Garfunkel, man I could go on forever! That music would touch your soul, and tell your story!

  23. Let’s face some truisms. Fair profit is for wimps. Gates might still have been a billionaire if he hadn’t violated the law twice to destroy competition, and had paid a fair price for DOS. Bezos would still be a billionaire if he was fair to his employees. Zuckerberg would still be filthy rich if he eliminated the vitriol and divisiveness his algorithms provide for his platform.

    Fair is for wimps. They all want to be the richest. Too much isn’t enough. As Patrick pointed out, Any Rand, whose theories were “proved” in novels, would be proud for their selfishness. (Gates wasn’t generous until he got married. I place all of the good stuff the Gates family has done on Melinda).

    Patrick – 1968 vs. 2020
    Thought 1 – 1968 was better – there was one man in America who could walk the streets and prevent violence in April, here in Indy.
    Thought 2 – 2020 is better – that man was assassinated.
    Thought 3 – 2020 is better – the riots helped elect Nixon. Think of the alternative. Humphrey was pushing civil rights in the 1940s. He would have made race relations better, regardless of the Vietnam War. Today, even the little violence won’t help Trump. Plus, look at the number of police coming out to condemn the murder of a black man by a policeman. Wouldn’t have happened in 1968. Just the perspective of an old man.

    Larry – My employer owns their network; they control what I can use it for. Zuckerberg owns Facebook. He may let you manage your own page, but he owns the platform, control his terms of service and do whatever he wants.

  24. We’re organisms that have run the gauntlet of evolutionary changes and adaptations, winner take all. Capitalism is no different. Bees store up capital as wax and honey, which gets them through bad times.
    Handwringing about the ways of nature is counter-productive. Exercise your creativity and come up with ideas that pit cooperation against this bad greedy niche we’ve created. We did get the arms control treaty, WHO, Medecins Sans Frontieres, air traffic control.
    Things will work out. Humans will survive.
    Sorry about our kids.

Comments are closed.