Commentary

Block Authors, NOT Their Right To Be Heard

The New York Times has a very interesting take on the move by Facebook to limit, if not completely eliminate, content from far-right conspiracy theorist (and nutcase) Alex Jones.

The story explores how extremists around the world have used Facebook as their primary promotional platform to spread lies and misinformation that resulted in riots and deaths, in some cases. The bottom line is that the social media darling has far more power to hurt globally than we generally have acknowledged.

Just like everyone else who writes about Facebook, the Times recognizes the urgency of finding an equitable solution that allows a certain amount of free speech, yet bans "offending" content.

And like everyone else, the Grey Lady kinda rubs her hands together and hopes that a solution drops out of the sky one day pretty soon.

Lots of bets have been made on the ability of machine learning, in combination with some form of AI, to spot "offensive" content and stop it before it is widely distributed.

I am highly skeptical that this will work for Facebook. It is not hard to produce propaganda so nuanced that it slips through. The Russians have already proven that they are several steps ahead of the most determined efforts to limit their influence on our society (and elections).

Worse still is the new normal in America, where if you don't agree with the next guy, you label his content "fake" or "biased," which may or may not be true, but it gives others who agree with you a flag to rally 'round. And if Trump has proven nothing else, Americans often don't care about the truth, especially if it might confirm that they are supporting a moron as President.

It's disheartening to watch the nation so polarized around nearly every aspect of our lives. On the one hand, if it's a cause you believe in, you thank the gods that be for Facebook (and perhaps Twitter), which has amplified your message to vast audiences. But if it's a cause with which you disagree, you are among those calling for the Zuck and his like to be lynched.

Still, you simply can't have it both ways.

It's a judgment call if the world is a better or worse place because of Facebook. One might argue that if it hadn't been Facebook that radicals turned to as a delivery vehicle, it would have been something else -- and we'd be right back where we are now.

In many respects, the mainstream media has become a handmaiden to Facebook because anything controversial that turns up there gets reported and further distributed, calling attention to content that those who don't use Facebook might not see otherwise.

Wasn't the theory that as the world got smaller, we would understand one another better, because we would be able to communicate easily and quickly?

Clearly, this has also brought out the worst in us.

From where I sit, the only resolution is that nothing gets posted anywhere online without the author's name, photo and email address next to the content. It would be the responsibility of the platform to verify the information before it goes live. If the content was picked up by another person or a site, the author ID would move with it. Browser add-ons could then block content from that individual so that if you hate Alex Jones, you would never bump into his content.

Or perhaps you have a better idea to share?

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