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A Platform For Fake News, Facebook Undermines Our Civic Culture

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A Platform For Fake News, Facebook Undermines Our Civic Culture

Fake partisan news makes Facebook millions

Dear Facebook friends,

If you don’t see me gushing over the pix of your Thanksgiving pies, take no offense. It’s not that your pie is a bore (though, frankly, it is). And it’s not because I unfriended you. It’s because Facebook has become a platform for the sort of fake news stories that helped elect Donald Trump. In doing so, Facebook undermines our civic culture — its creepy smile floating overhead.

I’m so out of there. I’ve wanted to quit for a long time, having wearied of friends’ pictorials of their idyllic family and personal lives. I know for a fact that some of the most glowing portrayals come from (mostly) women who couldn’t make it to noon without a fistful of meds. I still love them, and if they wish to connect, they have my number.

Though hyper-partisan fake news stories have come from both the left and the right, Facebook entrepreneurs know that the money is in plowing the Trumpian fields. And for all the patriotic memes, foreigners are behind much of the manipulation of the American public.

Kids in a town in Macedonia (that’s near Greece) created over 100 pro-Trump websites, spreading phony reports such as FBI plans to indict Hillary Clinton. The Make America Great page outsources the writing of fraudulent news to a couple in the Philippines.

Compounding the evil, Facebook’s design makes fake stories from fake sites such as the nonexistent Denver Guardian look like stories from the very real Denver Post. And no, blocking fake news sites from ad revenues is not going to stop politically motivated lying.

Facebook further degrades the national conversation by creating echo chambers. Its algorithm directs the “news” people like to their like-minded friends.

No chains shackle us to Facebook.

Aleks Krotoski, a technology journalist for BBC, saw a wave of Britons leaving Facebook after the Brexit vote — mostly people opposed to leaving the European Union. “They were shocked by the fact that they had found themselves in an echo chamber, in a bubble,” she told me.

Adding to my disgust with Facebook’s amoral business model is founder Mark Zuckerberg’s excuse for it. Facebook is not a media company; it’s a technology company, he explained.

So why has Facebook been so joyfully ravaging the advertising base of real news media companies, which put sweat, pride and dollars into reporting? As just one example, Facebook last year siphoned about $27 million in digital ads from The Guardian, according to a former editor.

Zuckerberg says he doesn’t want Facebook making judgments on what “news” is acceptable for its site. Funny, Facebook bans pictures of female breasts in the name of decency but sees nothing indecent about putting lies into the mouth of Pope Francis. We refer to the total falsehood, seen almost a million times, that the pope had endorsed Trump.

Public-spirited Trump voters should object to such corporate dereliction. But Clinton supporters have more reason for rage at Facebook for letting con men poison Clinton’s candidacy — at a profit to both Facebook and the cons.

I know quitting Facebook would be hard for many. It has something of a lock on group communications. But there’s something of a monkey-see, monkey-do element of Facebook that when someone announces she’s leaving, others do likewise.

“If you have a critical mass of people who get fed up and leave, Facebook would be in trouble,” Krotoski said.

An alternative would push that day closer. We need something to challenge the nature of the commitment and the connections that people have to one another on Facebook. Surely, there are innovators working feverishly on a replacement. If they succeed, they’ll make a fortune. I will help them in my microscopic way.

In the meantime, I’m leaving Facebook. Follow me.

Follow Froma Harrop on Twitter @FromaHarrop. She can be reached at fharrop@gmail.com. To find out more about Froma Harrop and read features by other Creators writers and cartoonists, visit the Creators webpage at www.creators.com

IMAGE: A picture illustration shows a Facebook logo reflected in a person’s eye, in Zenica, March 13, 2015. REUTERS/Dado Ruvic

Froma Harrop

Froma Harrop’s nationally syndicated column appears in over 150 newspapers. Media Matters ranks her column 20th nationally in total readership and 14th in large newspaper concentration. Harrop has been a guest on PBS, MSNBC, Fox News and the Daily Show with Jon Stewart and is a frequent voice on NPR and talk radio stations in every time zone as well.

A Loeb Award finalist for economic commentary in 2004 and again in 2011, Harrop was also a Scripps Howard Award finalist for commentary in 2010. She has been honored by the National Society of Newspaper Columnists and the New England Associated Press News Executives Association has given her five awards.

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  1. FireBaron November 17, 2016

    The main reason I avoid unmoderated FB sites these days.

  2. Aaron_of_Portsmouth November 17, 2016

    Facebook, Twitter, and similar innovations have positive aspects, but the stranglehold that materialism has on the vast majority of people in the world has seduced racists and others without scruples to abuse the technology.
    And no region on the planet is more affected than the West, and of the West, America stands out as the most materialistic based on the very foundation of its creation. Fortunately, America has many positive qualities as a result of its diversity and the quality of so many people who are of noble outlook.

    But those qualities are being drowned out for now, by the likes of Trump, and people who share his “me first” attitude and approach to social interactions.

    1. idamag November 17, 2016

      Ah, yes, Twitter – where the president elect (pardon me, while I gag) did a lot of postings about Rosanne’s looks and weight. Also he did a lot of postings about the former Miss Universe being a fat pig. Good God, America wake up and become civilized again.

      1. Aaron_of_Portsmouth November 17, 2016

        We’re all gagging, except those who no longer know how to gag when confronted with Trump tripe.

  3. Aaron_of_Portsmouth November 17, 2016

    As a follow-up to my previous thought, I thought it might be helpful to understand the problem and unique extent of America’s materialism, by looking at America through the eyes of Abdu’l Baha during his 239 day visit here.

    An excerpt from a talk he gave in Elliot Maine on August 12, 1912 is below:


    The physical beauty of this place is very wonderful. We hope that a spiritual charm may surround and halo it; then its beauty will be perfect. There is a spiritual atmosphere manifest here particularly at sunset.
    In cities like New York the people are submerged in the sea of materialism. Their sensibilities are attuned to material forces, their perceptions purely physical. The animal energies predominate in their activities; all their thoughts are directed to material things; day and night they are devoted to the attractions of this world, without aspiration beyond the life that is vanishing and mortal. In schools and temples of learning knowledge of the sciences acquired is based upon material observations only; there is no realization of Divinity in their methods and conclusions – all have reference to the world of matter. They are not interested in attaining knowledge of the mysteries of God or understanding the secrets of the heavenly Kingdom; what they acquire is based altogether upon visible and tangible evidences. Beyond these evidences they are without susceptibilities; they have no idea of the world of inner significances and are utterly out of touch with God, considering this an indication of reasonable attitude and philosophical judgement whereof they are self-sufficient and proud.
    As a matter of fact, this supposed excellence is possessed in its superlative degree by the animals. . . . the donkey is the greatest scientist and the cow an accomplished naturalist, for they have obtained what they know without schooling and years of laborious study in colleges, trusting implicitly to the evidence of the senses and relying solely upon intuitive virtues. The cow, for instance, is a lover of the visible and a believer in the tangible, contented and happy when pasture is plenty, perfectly serene, a blissful exponent of the transcendental school of philosophy. Such is the status of the material philosophers, who glory in sharing the condition of the cow, imagining themselves in a lofty station. Reflect upon their ignorance and blindness.
    Nay, rather, the virtue of man is this: that he can investigate the ideals of the Kingdom and attain knowledge which is denied the animal in its limitation. The station of man is this: that he has the power to attain those ideals and thereby differentiate and consciously distinguish himself an infinite degree above the kingdoms of existence below him.
    The station of man is great, very great. God has created man after His own image and likeness. He has endowed him with a mighty power which is capable of discovering the mysteries of phenomena. Through its use man is able to arrive at ideal conclusions instead of being restricted to the mere plane of sense impressions. As he possesses sense endowment in common with the animals, it is evident that he is distinguished above them by his conscious power of penetrating abstract realities. He acquires divine wisdom; he searches out the mysteries of creation; he witnesses the radiance of omnipotence; he attains the second birth – that is to say, he is born out of the material world just as he is born of the mother; he attains to everlasting life; he draws nearer to God; his heart is replete with the love of God. This is the foundation of the world of humanity; this is the image and likeness of God; this is the reality of man; otherwise, he is an animal. Verily, God has created the animal in the image and likeness of man, for though man outwardly is human, yet in nature he possesses animal tendencies.
    You must endeavor to understand the mysteries of God, attain the ideal knowledge and arrive at the station of vision, acquiring directly from the Sun of Reality and receiving a destined portion from the ancient bestowal of God.
    (`Abdu’l-Baha: Promulgation of Universal Peace, Pages: 261-263)


    If we compare the insight above with the likes of Trump, Nigel Farage, and others like them in America, China, Russia, etc., we see that they and their supporters are as beasts, grazing in the fields of luxurious materialism like cows and elephants, and simply intent on feeding to satisfy their own selfish interests.

  4. idamag November 17, 2016

    My kids set me up with a facebook account. Sharing pictures and experiences were nice, but then it became a cess pool of junk. I quit going to it. They should adopt a rule: “If you are stupid , get smart before you use facebook.” I believe, along with fake news programs, that it has contributed to the dumbing down of this country.

  5. Jon November 17, 2016

    I quit Facebook when it became alarmingly apparent that it was nothing more than a propaganda media site for right wing extremists who flooded it with lie after lie after lie. Facebook supported their hate and vitriol. To say that Facebook is not a media company ranks up there with the best of Trump’s lies and those of his followers. The whole purpose of Facebook was to easily allow people to exchange information. While there were some left wing sites that engaged in misinformation, they were much fewer in number and never carried the message of hate often promoted by the right wing sites.
    Good riddance Facebook.


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