Free speech: It’s pretty much the beau idéal of liberal thought. Unless the speech doesn’t agree with their vision of the world. Or comes from an outlet that doesn’t agree with them most of the time. Or doesn’t agree that President Donald Trump is like, Literally a Fascist™. Then not so much.
We saw this kind of thinking on display in Beverly Hills on Wednesday, where Facebook executives were attending the Television Critics Association’s media tour. Facebook is rolling out their Facebook Watch feature, a video-on-demand service which features both entertainment and news.
However, as Facebook’s video vice president Fidji Simo was answering reporters’ questions, he was forced to defend free speech on the social media platform because Infowars and Fox News are both on it.
“To be totally transparent, I find Infowars to be absolutely atrocious,” Simo told reporters, according to Entertainment Weekly.
“That being said, we have the hard job of balancing freedom of expression and safety. So the way we navigate that is we think there’s a pretty big difference between what is allowed on Facebook and what gets distribution.
“So what we’re trying to do is make it so that if you are saying something that’s untrue on Facebook — you’re allowed to say it as long as you’re an authentic person and you adhere to our community standards — but we’re trying to make it so it doesn’t get that much distribution,” he added. “We don’t always get it right, as you can imagine, it’s very complicated, but that’s sort of our principle for dealing with information.”
He was then asked how they limited distribution.
“When we have something that we think — that a fact checker has told is probably not true, or a lot of our audience is telling us is not true, we just limit distribution,” Simo said.
“We tell our algorithms that this is probably not something we want to see distributed widely. So that’s one way. Another way, a lot of how misinformation spreads, is by people sharing the content … We actually pop up a module that says, ‘Hey you’re about to share something our fact checker thinks is inaccurate, you may not want to do that.’ That decreases distribution very dramatically, north of 80 percent, that’s very effective at reducing the spread of it.”
Then things got ridiculous.
“One of the most prominent organizations you’re working with is Fox News, and they’re sort of incorrigible about proliferating a lot of misinformation,” a reporter asked. “Can you speak to your reasoning behind that? Why would you want to work with an organization like that when, as you said, you’re trying to limit the spread of false information?”
Apparently, a news source that doesn’t quite agree with a reporter’s views is now equivalent to being “sort of incorrigible about proliferating a lot of misinformation.” And we wonder why the term “fake news” has become contentious and devalued. But I digress.
Rick Van Veen, head of global creative strategy at Facebook, then interjected and noted they had limited time. The reporters then shouted back, demanding that they answered the question and noting that they would “give you time!”
“We have a range of new shows we’re presenting –” Simo said.
“But Fox News is still on every day, including the weekends on this programming list,” a reporter said.
“So is CNN,” Simo said.
“This was met by some chortles in the crowd, presumably because they don’t think CNN and Fox News are remotely compatible when it comes to accuracy,” Entertainment Weekly reported. Yes, and and their behavior is part of the reason why people don’t trust the media anymore.
In closing, just so we’re clear: a) both Infowars and Fox News are equivalent in the media’s eyes and b) Facebook is actually in the position of defending free speech against the media, the self-appointed guarantor of free speech. Let that one sink in.
Of course, Facebook can only let free speech go so far; this was before the platform gave Alex Jones a 30-day suspension on his public account on Friday due to several videos that allegedly went against community standards and said they were on the verge of taking down several Infowars-related pages.
How much of a loss to public discourse this is depends on your point of view, but it’s more sign that talk as opposed to action remains Facebook’s stock-in-trade when it comes to free speech.
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