Here is chapter I contributed to the Hackademic 2018 book, Anti-Social Media?: The Impact on Journalism and Society. I’ve used various ideas in this in other posts recently. I’m leaving the British spelling because it just might make me seem smarter.
In all the urgent debate about regulating, investigating, and even breaking up internet companies, we have lost sight of the problem we are trying to confront: not technology but instead human behaviour on it, the bad acts of some (small) number of fraudsters, propagandists, bigots, misogynists, and jerks.
Computers do not threaten and harass people; people do. Hate speech is not created by algorithms but by humans. Technology did not interfere with the American election; another government did.* Yet we demand that technology companies cure what ails us as if technology were the disease.
When before have we required corporations to monitor and mediate human behaviour? Isn’t that the job — the very definition — of government: to define and enforce the limits of acceptable acts? If not government, then won’t
This is just what I fear: fear itself. See that exchange above. Nick Thompson, the very impressive editor-in-chief of Wired, touted a column by one of his writers who idly wondered whether the #10YearChallenge meme could be a conspiracy created by Facebook to get us chumps to provide it with photos and data to enable facial recognition over time.
Just maybe. What if?
Except that’s ridiculous, on its face. At its public I/O developers conference more than three years ago, Google demonstrated that it could identify the same person in photos from infancy to elderly. And Facebook hardly needs two random photos from a smattering of people when it has huge stores of dated photos of people who identify themselves. (Disclosure: I raised money for my school from Facebook but we are fully independent and I receive no funds personally from any platform.)
I pointed out this
NYU and Princeton professors just released an important study that took a set of fake news domains identified by BuzzFeed’s Craig Silverman and others and asked who shares them on Facebook. They found that:
Sharing so-called fake news appears to be rare. “The vast majority of Facebook users in our data” —more than 90 %— “did not share any articles from fake news domains in 2016 at all.”
Most of the sharing is done by old people, not young people. People over 65 shared fake news at a rate seven times higher than young people 18–29. This factor held across controls for education, party affiliation and ideology, sex, race, or income.
It is also true that conservatives — and, interestingly, those calling themselves independent — shared most of the fake news (18.1% of Republicans vs. 3.5% of Democrats), though the researchers caution that the sample of fake news was predominantly pro-Trump.
I’ve been rereading a lot of Marshall McLuhan lately and I’m as confounded as ever by his conception of hot vs. cool media. And so I decided to try to test my thinking by comparing the phenomena of Donald Trump and Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez at this millennial media wendepunkt, as text and television give way to the net and whatever it becomes. I’ll also try to address the question: Why is @aoc driving the GOP mad?
McLuhan said that text and radio were hot media in that they were high-definition; they monopolized a sense (text the eye, radio the ear); they filled in all the blanks for the reader/listener and required or brooked no real interaction; they created — as we see with newspapers and journalism — a separation of creator from consumer. Television, he said, was a cool medium for it was low-definition across multiple senses, requiring the viewer to interact by filling
“Everyone who writes knows the seduction of the narrative.”
— Bernhard Pörksen in Die Zeit
The German journalism world is grappling with the implications of a shocking scandal at Der Spiegel: An award-winning, 33-year-old reporter — no, a fabulist and a fraud — named Claas Relotius made up article after article with stunning and audacious contempt for truth, as this fact-checking of his account of the rural American psyche makes clear.
German journalists are questioning Der Spiegel’s process and Relotius’ own psyche (he told his editors that he was motivated by a fear of failure) — as occurred in comparable American scandals of Jayson Blair at The New York Times and Janet Cooke at The Washington Post. But the Germans are digging deeper into the essence of journalism, questioning the perils of the seduction of the narrative form; the misplaced rewards inherent in professional awards; the risk to credibility for the institution in
I’d rather like to inveigh against Facebook right now as it would be convenient, given that ever since I raisedmoney for my school from the company, it keeps sinking deeper in a tub of hot, boiling bile in every media story and political pronouncement about its screwups. Last week’s New York Times story about Facebook sharing data with other companies seemed to present a nice opportunity to thus bolster my bona fides. But then not so much.
The most appalling revelation in The Times story was that Facebook “gave Netflix and Spotify the ability to read Facebook users’ private messages.” I was horrified when I read that and was ready to raise the hammer. But then I read Facebook’s response.
Specifically, we made it possible for people to message their friends what music they were listening to in Spotify or watching on Netflix directly from the Spotify
In the video above you will see New York Mayor Bill de Blasio trying to school CNN senior media correspondent Brian Stelter in the most important and most undercovered story in media today, a story that’s right under his nose: the ruinous impact of Fox News and Rupert Murdoch on American democracy. You’ll then see Stelter dismiss the critique in a fit of misplaced journalistic both-sideism.
Without Murdoch — without Fox News nationally and the New York Post locally — “we would be a more unified country,” de Blasio tells Stelter. “There would be less overt hate. There would be less appeal to racial division…. They put race front and center and they try to stir the most negative impulses in this country. There is no Donald Trump without News Corp.”
Stelter: “You’d rather not have Fox News or the New York Post exist?”
YouTube just terminated Alex Jones’ channel which had 2.4 million subscribers & Facebook has removed four of his pages. Spotify finally completely kicked him to the curb. Never doubt that your voice makes difference. Bravo @Facebook, @YouTube, @Spotify. ? https://t.co/TcY6jN7vXu
You did it, O, you denizens of social media, you sharers of cats, you time-wasters, you. With every appalled tweet and retweet and angry emoji on Facebook, you vanquished the foe, Infowars. You got it banished from Facebook, Apple, YouTube, and Spotify. Congratulations.
I have no inside information to know what made the platforms finally come to their senses. But I will bet that it was the cover provided by the public on social media that gave them the courage to do the right thing.
It is fitting that we pay tribute to Johannes Gutenberg now, as his grand invention reaches its twilight. The lovely geometry of type and the grammar of text have been overtaken by the binary aesthetics of data and dots. Today, our vulgate is visual, our vernacular video. Come the 600th anniversary of movable type, it is unlikely that words will any longer be impressed on paper mechanically, now that they can be sprayed, transmitted, copied, and animated digitally.
But let us not mourn print’s passing. Let us first celebrate the example of
So where do you think the line should be drawn? Where do I? If we cannot agree on where it should be, can we expect Facebook to determine this on its own and in every one of millions — perhaps billions — of questions it faces in its platform for human behavior?
Here I will try to put this discussion in the context of Facebook’s role in the world versus the role it has perceived for itself. More to the point, I will explore some of the standards that could be used to set the line: harm, threat, conspiracy, incivility, bigotry, hate, manipulation. Warning: I will fail. But especially because I raised money from
I am proud that starting today, I am on the faculty of the newly rechristened Craig Newmark Graduate School of Journalism at CUNY. My friend Craig has given a generous gift to endow our J-school and we have named it in his honor. This represents an ideal alignment of missions — his and ours — in the service of trustworthy journalism in a public university.
I can’t remember exactly when I first met Craig. Like everyone I’ve ever witnessed meeting him, I was impressed to meet the Craig of craigslist. He is unique: a self-proclaimed nerd’s nerd, a model of humility, curiosity, goodwill, intelligence, humor, irony, and most of all generosity.
I love watching others puzzle over him. Many years ago at the rich and ritzy Foursquare business conference, I saw the CEO of a then-major media company throw up his arms in frustration at Craig’s refusal to clog his service with ads and
Friday at Radcliffe — in a tent wonderfully filled with 80 or 90 percent women, from the class of ’41 on— I had the privilege of seeing Hillary Clinton receive the Radcliffe Medal. I left ever-more impressed with her wisdom, experience, and civility — with her leadership — and, of course, ever-more depressed that what should be is not what is.
As a journalist and journalism teacher, I was grateful for her defense of my field in the face of the right’s attacks on it and in spite of its certain role in her defeat. “Defend the press,” Clinton urged. “And believe me, that’s not easy for me to say all the time. But I know well that in the absence of a free and vigorous press our democracy is not going to survive.” While the press itself is busy tying itself in knots debating whether to call a lie a lie (isn’t that our
Facebook is on its way to hiring 20,000 people to identify the hate and bile that we, the people, leave there because laws — Germany’s NetzDG, among others — and media demand it. Let me repeat that: 20,000 employees.
Now consider that the total number of daily newspaper journalists in America was 32,900 in 2015 and is probably below 30,000 today.
20,000 shit-pickers vs. 30,000 journalists.
What does that say about our priorities as a society? Yes, I know, I’m mixing a worldwide number (the 20,000 conversational janitors) with a U.S. number (journalists) but the scale is telling — not so much about Facebook or technology or business models but about us.
By these numbers, it is clear that we as a society are more concerned about policing playground twits who thereby get just what they want — attention — than about policing the truly powerful. How screwed up is that?
In the long ago, when I was the TV critic for TV Guide, I liked Roseanne. Above, see my credentials.
Now, not so much. I had to force myself to watch Roseanne’s reboot just to see what is being foisted on America by ABC — especially because this network’s parent company, Disney, will soon have as its largest individual shareholderthe man who, more than any other single person, ruined our democracy: Rupert Murdoch. You like conspiracy theories? Nevermind Roseanne’s crackpot paranoia about left-wing pedophile rings. Try looking at how Fox and now ABC will conspire as propaganda outlets for Trump.
What’s most disturbing about the new Roseanne is how the network takes a populist movement that at its roots and its head is racist and tries to cleanse it. In the most blatant incident of racial tokenism on TV in memory, an innocent, young, African-American actor is hired to do nothing
A post in three parts: First, I dissect a specimen of the current elitist media attack on Facebook and its users as aguidepost on the path to moral panic. Second, as a counterpoint, I admire a report about how the leaders of our tomorrow — the youth of Parkland — are using social media to change the world. Third, I will tell Facebook it is not doing nearly enough to fix itself and if it does not act more decisively, honestly, and quickly, it will invite short-sighted regulation that could ruin the net for us all.
[First, my disclosure: I raised money from Facebook, Craig Newmark, the Ford Foundation, AppNexus, and others to start the News Integrity Initiative. We are independent of Facebook and I receive no payment from any platform.]
I have respected Matthew Yglesias as a political commentator since he was a blogger as
I’m going to straddle a sword by on the one hand criticizing the platforms for not taking their public responsibility seriously enough, and on the other hand pleading for some perspective before we descend into a moral panic with unintended consequences for the net and the future.
[Disclosure: I raised $14 million for the News Integrity Initiative at CUNY from Facebook, Craig Newmark, the Ford Foundation, AppNexus, and others. We are independent of Facebook and I personally receive no money from any platform.]
The Observer’s reporting on Cambridge Analytica’s exploitation of Facebook data on behalf of Donald Trump has raised what the Germans call a shitstorm. There are nuances to this story I’ll get to below. But to begin, suffice it to say that Facebook is in a mess. As much as the other platforms would like to hide behind their schadenfreude, they can’t. Google has plenty
Sometimes, things need to get bad before they can get good. Such is the case, I fear, with content, conversation, and advertising on the net. But I see signs of progress.
First let’s be clear: No one — not platforms, not ad agencies and networks, not brands, not media companies, not government, not users — can stand back and say that disinformation, hate, and incivility are someone else’s problem to solve. We all bear responsibility. We all must help by bringing pressure and demanding quality; by collaborating to define what quality is; by fixing systems that enable manipulation and exploitation; and by contributing whatever resources we have (ad dollars to links to reporting bad actors).
Last May, I wrote about fueling a flight to quality. Coming up on a year later, here’s what I see happening:
Twitter CEO Jack Dorsey recently posted a thread acknowledging his company’s responsiblity to the health and
Facebook wants to build community. Ditto media. Me, too.
But I fear we are all defining and measuring community too shallowly and transiently. Community is not conversation — though that is a key metric Facebook will use to measure its success. Neither is community built on content: gathering around it, paying attention to it, linking to it, or talking about it — that is how media brands are measuring engagement. Conversation and content are tools or byproducts of real community.
Community means connecting people intimately and over time to share interests, worldviews, concerns, needs, values, empathy, and action. Facebook now says it wants to “prioritize posts that spark conversations and meaningful interactions between people.” I think that should be meaningful, lasting, and trusting interactions among people, plural. Think of community not as a cocktail party (or drunken online brawl) where friends and strangers idly chat. Instead, think of community a club
[Disclosure: I raised $14 million from Facebook, the Craig Newmark and Ford foundations, and others to start the News Integrity Initiative. I personally receive no money from and am independent of Facebook.]
I’m worried that now that Facebook has become a primary distributor of news and information in society, it cannot abrogate its responsibility — no matter how accidentally that role was acquired — to help inform our citizenry.
I’m worried that news and media companies — convinced by Facebook (and in some cases by me) to put their content on Facebook or to pivot to video — will now see their fears about having the rug pulled out from under them realized and they will shrink
I am not sure it’s possible to fully appreciate the implications of this sort of thing. Basically all democratic theory is built around the idea people have a roughly accurate and shared view of what’s going on. What if they don’t? https://t.co/dfmG5fQ3va
— Ezra Klein (@ezraklein) December 29, 2017
In the tweets above, leading journalists Ezra Klein and Anne Applebaum reflect the accepted wisdom, raison d’être, and foundational myth of their field: that journalism exists to align the nation upon a common ground of facts, so a uniformly informed mass of citizens can then manage their democracy.
The idea that the nation can and should share one view of reality based on one