Facebook’s Needed Policy Change Around Misinformation
I realized recently that I have a love/hate relationship with Facebook. I love the fact that I can connect with family and friends around the world but despise their news stories and posts that in a lot of cases shares fake news. Given their overall policy around free speech, Facebook even has allowed Russian bots to post divisive ads that clearly want to divide our country even more than it already is today.
While I may respect Facebook’s CEO, Mark Zuckerberg for creating this platform, his recent comments on Holocaust deniers being allowed to post factually inaccurate comments has caused me to turn away from Facebook more and more each day. In case you missed it, Zuckerberg ignited a firestorm recently when he told Recode that Facebook prioritizes allowing people to express themselves — even if they “get things wrong.”
After the Recode Podcast, he clarified his comments:
“I’m Jewish, and there’s a set of people who deny that the Holocaust happened,” he told the interviewer, Kara Swisher. “I find that deeply offensive. But at the end of the day, 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.
The line “ I don’t think that they’re intentionally getting it wrong” is absurd. Of course they are. They have an agenda and are using it to propagate racist hatred.
Zuckerberg is either losing his grip on reality or intentionally willing to deceive the public for profits.
This particular one hit me hard as I have visited both the Auschwitz and Dachau concentration camps and believe me, this was not a fake area in Germany. It was one of the most sobering experiences of my life and I left shaken and profoundly disturbed at the cruelty that these men inflicted in their racist quest to create an Aryan nation. Being half-German myself, I could not even fathom how some of my ancestors could have possibly participated in these horrible actions. Early in my career I also interviewed people who survived these concentration camps and the horror they endured was very real and not made up. When one of them showed me the number tattooed on their arm from being in one of the concentration camps, it took everything inside me to not loose it.
Another example of Zuckerberg’s team willing to post absurd theories was also highlighted by Axios.
” the company doubled down on its policies, rejecting calls to remove an Alex Jones video in which the InfoWars founder attempts to link Robert Mueller to child rape and then pantomimes shooting the special prosecutor?”
If this is not hate speech, then I don’t know what that is. They now have suspended Alex Jones’ personal page for 30 days but that it not enough. YouTube has pulled his entire network off of their site and Facebook needs to do the same thing.
Zuckerberg has deservedly received great criticism over these comments and company policies and I could only hope that this criticism gets his attention and causes him to change his own position. More importantly, I can only hope it also changes Facebooks business practices. It is one thing to allow people to express themselves, but it is another thing to allow them to share something like Holocaust denials that are highly factual and cannot be denied. Zuckerberg needs to visit Auschwitz and see the reality of this in person. If he does and this doesn’t change his view, than we know he is just another opportunist where profits rule and decency and facts do not matter.
However, it one thing to criticize Zuckerberg and team for their misguided policies, and not suggest some ways he can remedy this giant misstep.
Recently, Axios asked some very smart and credible people to suggest ways that Zuckerberg could steer Facebook in a direction that makes Facebook a better site and gives them the proper moral authority to resist the posts of any comments that are factually incorrect.
Here are a few of the suggestions they got:
“Pivot. Say that the business he thought he founded is not the business it grew into. Companies become organic entities as they find their social ecosystems. He didn’t set out to be a publisher, but that is what he has become — the world’s largest publisher, on an until-now unimaginable scale. … This gives him and his company new responsibilities. … In the end, democracy and free speech and community need publishers with ethics and values that have grown up in the tradition he grew up in. Everything will follow from that.” — Sherry Turkle, professor, MIT
Jeff Jarvis, CUNY journalism professor and blogger:
I think Zuckerberg needs to empower himself with the knowledge that he can decide what is and is not appropriate on the platform he created not because of law but because of enlightened self-interest for the legacy of him and his company. Then he needs to convene a larger conversation with many stakeholders about what constitutes civil, acceptable behavior: Where’s the line? As I wrote in my post, this is not an easy task.
The Axios article includes more suggestions from very smart people, but I feel Professor Turkle’s suggestion is the best of the one’s listed and the one that could be implemented the fastest.
I would also hope the current downturn in their stock price will get Zuckerberg’s attention and make him realize that he has to do more to turn this company around. My own advice is to admit Facebook is a publishing platform and create multiple ethics boards focused on different aspects of content and add serious ombudsman’s who can help create more than just policies. They need a code of ethics that lays out what can and cannot be posted on their site and take immediate action when any post violates that code.
At the moment Zuckerberg’s legacy is deeply tarnished. But this is his own fault. Given the damage Facebook has done for democracy around the world, if he does not change his ways and get Facebook back on track, he and his team will continue down a dangerous path that has serious ramifications for governments and people around the world, as well as destroy his own legacy he is trying so hard to build.