The big news in recent weeks is Facebook’s announcement that the former president’s ban from Facebook related to postings around the Jan. 6 (invasion, insurrection, mob attack, tourist event) was continued for another two years.
The part of the reporting that caught my attention was a mention that Facebook was no longer giving politicians running for office a pass on hate speech. A related Washington Post June 4, 2021 article reported Facebook was changing a 2016 policy that allowed or “tolerate(d) inflammatory and untrue posts from influential people on grounds they’re ‘newsworthy, significant or important to public interest — even if they might otherwise violate (Facebook’s) standards.”
The first question that comes to mind is what is “newsworthy.” I think it might have to do with the shock value of mean speech and lying or the fact so many people are drawn to the posts (more on that later).
I didn’t know that Facebook made such exceptions for posts placed by influential people. Doesn’t influential, by definition, indicate something could happen as a result of the post? Influential people are believed by those who do not question their sentiments or statements.
As we know, Facebook concluded as much when it banned the former president because his remarks could have contributed to the storming of the capitol on Jan. 6. It must have been an influential factor in rethinking its permissive attitude toward incendiary postings by influential people.
Facebook is in a tough spot and having trouble finding a balance between cute baby photos and hateful political mutterings. Facebook is not a tabloid designed to sensationalize postings. Nor does it fact check for the of truth in every posting. I know my posting that husband and I have been married nearly 50 years and I was 12 when married wasn’t corrected. Who cares, it doesn’t matter.
What matters is the postings that reach a wide audience with misinformation or slanderous comments.
As much as Facebook struggles with freedom of speech and wanting to allow posting whatever Facebook users want, bad actors are pretending to be Bertha Cooper or something other than Russian trolls and conspiracists who want our money or us to vote their lack of conscience.
Zuckerberg and his colleagues at Facebook continue to say they are working on the nuances of freedom of speech, newsworthy incitement, fake news and hate speech to find a balance.
The confusion is understandable because the audience for the combination of influential people and hate speech is far larger than I thought possible. The capacity to adopt provable lies as truth is far more than I could, in my wildest thoughts, imagine.
Although, some explain the wiliness as “politics” as if that somehow cleanses it for consumption.
At the beginning of his campaign to become president, most of us thought Donald J. Trump and his rhetoric of abuse and insults to individuals and groups of people was entertaining, something like the schtick of Don Rickles, the comedian of insults.
As time passed, Trump’s schtick of insulting characterizations and outrageous denial of the role of government, including characterizing it as the “deep state,” became cunningly serious.
Just about every media outlet presented his schtick as newsworthy. Coverage improved ratings because a great swath of people enjoyed hearing and seeing other people humiliated and sometimes oppressed. Masses of people cheered and enjoyed his rhetoric no matter how many times his rhetorical deceit was exposed.
Donald J. Trump rode his cunning schtick to the presidency.
The electoral college process elects the very government whose role is to protect and defend its people. In the case of the 2016 election our country was entrusted to the man we gave a pass on decency and truth because it is “politics.”
Trump received a lot of votes, never winning the popular vote, but enough to have a large following. Some believe those votes for meanness and lies were of people who were “taken in” by posts on media sites like Facebook.
I refuse to believe that the people on websites and social media exchanges that pump out conspiracy theories about everything from microchip filled COVID vaccines to an entire political party being made up of pedophiles are simply gullible sorts who will believe anything.
I’m more inclined to think they fall into the category of enjoying the adventure of the chase, catching and degrading the helpless prey. It’s the newsworthy part. Many of us had ancestors who piled into towns to witness the mutilation, stoning or lynching of innocent men who were black or women thought to be witches.
Think about it; how can we expect Facebook to protect us from ourselves?
Bertha Cooper, a featured columnist in the Sequim Gazette, spent her career years in health care administration, program development and consultation. Cooper and her husband have lived in Sequim more than 20 years. Reach her at firstname.lastname@example.org.