Try to imagine Walter Cronkite telling his viewers that he wouldn’t want to live in a world where television journalists could only report what was determined to be 100% true.
Or what if the publishers of The Washington Post were to set a similar low bar for their journalists — write what you want and let the readers determine whether or not it’s the truth.
Not that broadcast or print journalists are infallible, but neither do they purposely print false information or outright lies. Despite Trump’s repeated rants about the “fake news,” our personal integrity and responsibility to our readers/viewers won’t allow that.
Mark Zuckerberg is no journalist and doesn’t pretend to be. Neither does he pretend to abide by any ethical standards even though the CEO of Facebook runs the largest media company in the world that tries to pretend it’s something else.
Most would assume a huge moral responsibility in that role, but not Zuckerberg. Unfortunately, that bodes poorly for public trust in the media, of which Facebook is a reluctant member, and it is dangerous for democracy.
This is not hyperbole.
Facebook was used wittingly or unwittingly by Russians to influence the 2016 presidential election. In response to that undeniable truth, Zuckerberg had pledged to have his company do a better job of policing content. It had pledged to prohibit political ads that “include claims debunked by third-party fact checkers.”
Just last year, Zuckerberg told members of the U.S. Senate that, “It’s not enough to just give people a voice. We need to make sure that people aren’t using it to harm other people or to spread misinformation.”
Zuckerberg’s commitment to that goal was seemingly tossed aside following a recent meeting with Donald Trump at the White House. No one knows what was said between the two except that immediately afterward Facebook changed its policy on political advertising.
Call us cynical, but perhaps the $1.5 million being spent each week by the Trump campaign on Facebook had something to do with the policy change.
Sen. Elizabeth Warren noted that “Facebook has incredible power to affect elections and our national debate.” She further said that the company is taking “deliberate steps to help one candidate intentionally mislead the American people.”
Zuckerberg’s weak position in preventing his social media platform from becoming a tool of misinformation was further highlighted when he was grilled by Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez on Capitol Hill this week. In sharp questioning from the New York lawmaker, she tried to pin Zuckerberg down on where he draws the line on what is and isn’t acceptable.
For example, she asked if Facebook policy would allow political ads targeting black voters and giving them the wrong election date. Zuckerberg said such an ad would be banned.
She then asked if it would be OK to run misleading advertising that claims Republicans had voted for the Green New Deal.
“I don’t know the answer to that off the top of my head,” Zuckerberg replied.
After further questioning, Zuckerberg conceded that “lying is bad.”
Really. But as long as someone is willing to pay the price, bad as it may be, certain lies are OK on Facebook.
The Facebook CEO further tried to defend his indefensible position by saying they are actually providing a service by not preventing “your constituents or people in an election from seeing that you had lied.”
Again, the logic behind this statement is remarkable.
It assumes that someone reading the content will automatically know it’s a lie and then be angry that they were lied to. Obviously, the Trump campaign isn’t counting on that level of scrutiny or intellect from those who get their news from social media.
When AOC asked Zuckerberg whether or not he would have lies in political advertisements removed from Facebook, Zuckerberg said, “It depends on the context.”
Zuckerberg seemingly has plenty of company when it comes to a willingness to accept lies.
Having told more than 13,400 documented lies since he took office, including press briefings and political rallies, Trump has made millions of Americans immune or indifferent to truth. But that’s OK, according to Zuckerberg’s thinking, as long as those lies are put into context.
The only defense of truth and our democracy rests with real journalists who respect the truth and know that one can’t put a price tag on the First Amendment.
That’s something Zuckerberg does not understand.
Rod Haxton is publisher of The Scott County Record. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.