Social Media Execs to Address Senate Committee

CWatts

Chart courtesy of Clint Watts (FPRI)

Going into today’s Senate hearing on Russian use of social media to influence Americans in the 2016 election, I am struck by how much the tech giants are doing wrong. So it will be interesting to see what they say today.

I am generally a proponent of the notion that the best antidote to bad speech or false speech is more speech, rather than censorship. But this is becoming increasingly problematic as more and more people gravitate to their information bubbles, shut down and will not or cannot listen to rational discourse. Say somebody puts up flyers with swastikas and anti-semitic slogans and images outside a synagogue, do we then plaster flyers explaining why this is wrong over top of them? No, we rip the bad signs down.

This is essentially what Facebook did when it suspended the accounts of certain Pages and Groups when their internal investigations determined those pages originated from Russian propaganda outlets. While removing those pages and all their posts will go a long way to simply keeping false information out of the heads of easily-influenced people, it does nothing to solve the problem that these misinformation campaigns actually work.

Also, in addition to simply taking these pages/users/posts offline, both Twitter and Facebook have scrubbed posts and data relating to accounts run out of the Internet Research Agency in St. Petersburg, Russia. This is data that could have been used by independent data scientists to investigate the methods used to seed false stories and examine how they spread across social media platforms. Gizmodo ran a great story about this on 10/13/17It references the original Washington Post story that first revealed Facebook deleted all the data associated with accounts it had found to be propaganda.

Also referenced in the Gizmodo article is data researcher and journalist Jonathan Albright, who has been posting his findings concerning the spread of misinformation on his Medium.com page.

Another reason I feel it was wrong for social media companies to delete the data is that I believe Facebook and Twitter need to inform their users of every instance of foreign influence they liked, shared, retweeted or commented on. The only way to convince people that they may have been manipulated is to show them the misinformation they were clearly paying attention to and helping to spread.

On 10/26/17 Twitter announced that it will no longer accept advertising from Russian based media outlets RT or Sputnik. While much of the Twitterverse rejoiced, and @jack can pat himself on the back for “taking action”,  I remain unconvinced that it will do anything at all the curb the influx of propaganda that those two news outlets disseminate relentlessly.

We may never know the true extent of Russia’s influence and that’s a problem. There will be no defending ourselves from more foreign influence if we cannot be shown how it happened and larger numbers of Americans learn how to separate factual information from disinformation.

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For Social Media Politicos, the Election Was Not the End, It Was Just the Beginning.

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Hey, it’s been a while. I have started and trashed many drafts of posts covering so many aspects of our political situation in America. There is so much to be said. Even now I feel a bit lost in it all. It’s hard to focus on the signal with all the noise. There is so much freaking noise. I guess a lot of us thought that once the election was over, our social media feeds would revert to the mundane sharing of personal achievements, generic humor and feline memes.

But the “political postings” have not seemed to die down. In fact, many have noticed that they have intensified. Is this good or bad? I guess it depends on who is being feed, with what, and how often.

Many admonish their online friends with quips along the line of, “Trump won. Get over it. There’s nothing you can do about it.” While I sympathize completely with people who are fatigued by almost everything they encounter online being Trump related—because I too am weary of this macro-discussion—I have a few problems with this just move on mentality.

Yes, Trump won the election. But it would do us all well to remember that he lost the popular vote by an even greater margin than that which Bush lost to Gore in 2000. So when more people did NOT vote for the POTUS [We all know by now that this means President Of The United States, yes? Because as recently as a month ago I was still having to explain this to people.] that majority is allowed to make their voice heard in opposition to policies and an agenda that most of the electorate voted against. So “he won” is not a valid reason to expect someone to curtail their dissent.

My second issue is this “Get Over It” I keep hearing. Barack Obama was the first president to hold office in a time with social media as the primary reference point and source of information for a large part of the American public. So the reaction to and resistance of his presidency was very well documented with news and commentary more easily shared than ever before.

My follow/friends list runs the entire expanse of the political spectrum, from actual socialists to actual fascists. I even know some anarchists. Actual ANTIFA anarchists, not these trendy hyphenated anarcho whatevers you encounter in certain Reddit threads and NationStates forums. I don’t know what others’ feeds are like. But I might make the argument that if your follow/friends list is not as diverse as mine, you are likely living in one of these bubbles everyone likes to talk about and you are probably a menace to independent critical thought and a healthy functioning Republic. But I’ll refrain from that argument for now.

Back to “Get Over It” — The reason I felt the need to tell you about the kinds of people in my very large social media circle is that for the last eight years I have encountered a pretty high number of anti-Obama postings, some of them reasonable and—I believe—warranted, like opposition to his ‘targeted’ drone strike program, but most of it just absolute garbage. From the “He is a Muslim Communist trying to FEMA death camp all white Christians!!!!!” to “Michelle Obama is a Transvestite”, I have seen some pretty idiotic and vile things coming from sites like Western Journalism and Hillary Clinton’s Crab Lice [yes this is an actual Facebook page].

The Obama years gave birth to a burgeoning website traffic movement from various sites with words like patriot and liberty and conservative somewhere in their name. Clearly there were a lot of people who never got over the election of Barack Obama. Even to this day, I see posts about Obummer, our Muslim-in-chief. Honestly if anyone needs to get over an election, it’s these folks still bawwwing about 2008. The guy isn’t even in office anymore.

Finally is the notion no one “can do anything about it”. Well. Bear with me now. We hear a lot about normalizing these days and we are just sick of it right? But the truth is, whether you think for good or ill, Trump was not a normal candidate, not a normal politician, and he is not a normal president. He does not speak normally, appears to not think normally and his actions every step of the way have not been normal. Many of his appointees are from so far out of the field it is absolutely baffling. And not normal.

We expected the usual primary-candidate-to-general-election-candidate pivot and never saw it. Once elected we assumed reality would set in and normalize his behavior but that didn’t happen either. Then everyone spoke of the sobering responsibility that tempers every president after they take their inaugural oath of office, but we saw no evidence of this change in Trump. Instead, we are being told by most in the GOP leadership that the nation’s citizens now have to pivot to Trump.

This is simply unacceptable to many people. We have every reason to be alarmed by almost every thing this administration does because almost every day we hear something, well, alarming. I’ll be the first to say that sharing every post from Occupy Democrats and The Daily Kos is probably not doing any good. But people are starting to realize that they can do something about it.

They can hold their elected representatives in Congress accountable if they are playing party politics and not providing the proper check on the Executive branch that they are required to under the Constitution. It’s what the Tea Party did after all. They can engage in civil discourse on social media with people of different beliefs. [This is not a fairy tale. I have witnessed it, been party to it. Things just do downhill quickly when someone shows up employing any one of many argumentative logical fallacies. Don’t let them.] No one can change the outcome of the election, but they don’t have to refrain from objecting to policies with which they are not in agreement.

If you think that social media cannot change things, I have news for you. It may have altered enough of the vote to sway the outcome of the 2016 Presidential election:

Meticulously sourced London School of Economics blog post

Motherboard article on Cambridge Analytica

I know we’d all like to think we are too smart and savvy to be influenced  by what we see surfing the good ole ‘net. But lots of sciencey people are discovering evidence to the contrary.

I’m hoping that things die down a little bit too. We can’t keep up this heightened state of agitation everyday for the next four years—or longer. I can do without all the memetic jokes and skewered commentary and manufactured outrage, but complaining about people who try to engage in political discourse in order to inform, offer opposing views and learn from others is antithetical to social media. It is, after all, where we talk about anything and everything.

In the meantime, remember you can ignore all the political posts and just scroll right on by them. That’s what I have been doing to all the nauseating Pinterest posts for years now. 😛

Make The Call. Send The Letter.

Today a friend died. A work-mate. She was my immediate supervisor for the better part of 10 years. My boss, really, when it comes down to it. But a friend nonetheless. The establishment of our mutual employ shuttered the doors seven years ago, so our contact since then has been limited to occasional texts and Facebook exchanges. Likes and comments. Like so many others with whom I shared the bond of a workplace, real personal exchanges have been replaced by virtual, digital ones.

Facebook is how I learned she had cancer. Cholangiocarcinoma: a rare cancer of the bile duct that hardly anyone has ever heard of. In her thirties. A young mother of a two year old boy. A child she and her husband were finally blessed with after years of attempts to conceive. It. Is. Not. Fair.

She fought it well and hard. But as is all too often the case with rare cancers, she lost. She lost and in her final days, I was not there to tell her all the things that people should be telling loved ones when you know you are losing them. How wonderful they are, how they were a force for good and left a positive imprint on your life, how they will be missed and never forgotten.

But death is always about the living. She didn’t need to know any of this from me. She had plenty of others in her life surrounding her and supporting her. I’m sure she knew these things: how loved she was, how important she was to so many. What I am feeling now is not about her, it’s about me and how I figured there would always be more time to connect again. Connect for real, with a hug, sharing laughs, baring smiles that signal unspoken truths of mutual respect, admiration and compassion. Real connection—not just commenting on her status update or liking an inspirational image macro.

After recently hearing that her health was deteriorating and that she was denied acceptance into a clinical trial, I sent her a quick text two weeks ago. I wanted to make sure that was her current active number and I wanted to send a card and needed to verify her address. I also wanted to see her but was unsure how she would feel about it. These are things I would have known had I simply maintained proper contact. She responded to my text that yes, it was her current cell phone number. So I just put off further contact thinking there would be more time.

There was not more time. Earlier this week I was contacted by mutual friends who told me they were going to see her in hospice. Now I know exactly what hospice means, but I was still not prepared. I thought, she just texted me ten days ago, how bad can this be? I knew immediately when I saw her that I was definitely there to say goodbye. We kept it brief out of respect to her family and close friends. I left the hospital absolutely stunned and madder than all hell at myself for not just calling her on the phone just a little bit earlier.

We maintain an illusion that we are “in touch” with people we love because we see their posts on social media. The internet is a great way to keep tabs on the lives of our family and friends but it is no substitute for an actual one-on-one conversation no matter the medium we use. We all seem too busy to meet up for a face to face chat and that’s okay. So just call. Write. Even e-mail.

When people are sick, we feel like we don’t want to bother them. We assume they don’t want visitors or they are too exhausted to speak on the phone or any number of things. This is not our assumption to make. Let them make that decision. Reach out. Always reach out. If they decline a visit or a phone call, simply respect that decision and don’t take it personally. Send a card or a letter, something they can read when it suits them and they don’t necessarily feel compelled to answer.
But do reach out.
Do reach out.
Reach out.
Out.

Fake News Has Many Other Names—Start Using Them

Well that didn’t take long. A term used to describe the barrage of misinformation that flashes before the eyes of millions of Americans and takes root in their consciousness, whether they know it or not, has already been both completely over used and now flipped around to label any sources whatsoever that one chooses to call as such. RIP “fake-news” – we hardly knew ye.

It was a bad term from the start. There already exist other, more adequate expressions that properly define the various kinds of reports that have been placed under the “fake-news” banner. Some of these concepts include propaganda, partisan hackery, sloppy reporting and outright lies.

And now any time a media outlet gets a story wrong they are branded as “fake news!” and rendered more and more illegitimate. It has come to the point that most people no longer trust any of the institutions that were once relied upon to give us information. The trust has been slowly eroding over time, but the slide we have encountered over the last year is alarming. And I don’t think it’s totally warranted on the scale we are seeing today?

Think of how dangerous it is to believe nothing and to trust nothing. When we outsource our opinions only to entities that reinforce our biases and do not apply the slightest bit of critical thinking to reports we read, see or hear, we stop questioning the things we should be questioning. We throw up our hands in defeat and let those in power run roughshod over us. This is the sort of climate that gives rise to an autocrat.

It hasn’t always been this way in America. This mass dissociation from rationality that is now pervasive across the political spectrum, that permeates our collective unconscious, is relatively new both in America and throughout Western societies. We have mostly been able to trust our institutions, with only few faltering bumps along the way.

But this kind of mental numbness is the status quo under authoritarian regimes and has been the case in Russia for half a century, despite their brief flirtation with actual democracy. And now the internet has brought it to our shores just as it has been creeping across Europe in recent years.

In “Nothing Is True And Everything Is Possible” Peter Pomerantsev writes about The Surreal Heart of The New Russia; indeed, that’s the subtitle of the book. Pomerantsev examines the role of television, government, and spirituality in keeping the Russian people both on the edge of panic and in a state of total numbed compliance not just since the Putin’s authoritarian rise to power, but throughout modern times as well. He asserts that it was all possible because the Russian people are accustomed to living in a society where institutions of power are constantly lying and the people, in order to survive, are constantly pretending to believe the lies.

Asked how one lives in a state of constant contradictory duality, the reply of today’s Russian is swift and cynical. Says one,

“Over the last twenty years we’ve lived through a communism we didn’t believe in, democracy and defaults and mafia state and oligarchy, and we’ve realized that they are all illusions, that everything is PR.”

Everything is spectacle in order to distract from what is really going on. And those who can see through the veil don’t dare voice objection out of fear of reprisal; classic pluralistic ignorance. It’s a tale as old as The Wizard of Oz and The Emperor’s New Clothes.

The delegitimization of news media is straight out of the authoritarian playbook. While we don’t have state controlled media of the sort in Russia, it’s not too difficult to imagine an “official” U.S. political news media source in a de facto sense. And we are already primed to be quite susceptible to the same intellectual malaise that occurs in nation states without a free press.

Consider Pomerantsev’s assessment of Ostankino, which is the Moscow epicenter of Russian broadcasting:
“… the lies are told so often that after a while you find yourself nodding because it’s hard to get your head around the idea that they are lying quite so much and quite so brazenly—and at some level you feel that if Ostankino can lie so much and get away with it, doesn’t that mean they have real power to define what is true and what isn’t?”

“The Kremlin has mastered the art of fusing reality TV and authoritarianism to keep the great 140-million-strong population entertained, distracted, consistently exposed to geopolitical nightmares, which if repeated enough times become infectious.”

Now some may argue, from a John Carpenter’s “They Live” standpoint, that the media is already serving to distract and entertain us. The difference between us and Russia is that editorial decisions come down from one source in the latter, and many different sources in the former. Also, we have, for now, constitutionally-protected press and free speech rights that don’t exist in Russia. But we do have a President-Elect who has alluded to curtailing those rights on more than one occasion, and has severely eroded Presidential norms when it comes to fair access to executive decision-making.

So it’s time we put “fake news” to rest and just call lies lies, misleading headlines misleading, and agitprop agitprop. There is truth out there. And there are ways of seeing it despite however bent the presentation may be.

How Did We Get Here and Where do We Go?

What led to the collapse of news reporting and more importantly, how do we recover? The problems mostly have to do with money and bubbles. The solutions are yet to be determined.

First of all, it is important to distinguish the different types of media and the forces that drive their production. There is broadcast media, print media and now web media. Most broadcast and print outlets also have a web presence and some outlets are web only. All media is supported by advertising or subscription, or a combination of both.

Network and cable news, being television, are all about advertising revenue and ratings. Therefore, they give you the kind of programming that brings viewers. The sad fact of the matter is that people don’t watch cable news for information, they watch it for sensation, for spectacle.

For proof of this look no further that CBS Chairman Les Moonves who, in reference to the Presidential primaries, famously said in February 2016, “It may not be good for America, but it is damn good for CBS.” Moonves went on to muse,
“Man, who would have expected the ride we’re all having now?”
“The money’s rolling in and this is fun!”
“I’ve never seen anything like this, and this is going to be a very good year for us. Sorry. It’s a terrible thing to say. But, bring it on, Donald. Keep going.”

Donald Trump’s candidacy was a ratings cash cow. For whatever reasons, whether one sees him as a hero and source of elation or one sees him as a train wreck and source of dread, people will tune their TV to watch Donald Trump. So much so, that he was given an estimated $2 billion worth of free coverage, about three times as much as it has been estimated Hillary Clinton received. The more we watched, the more the networks charged for advertising slots.

How do you trust television news when the executives in charge, the gatekeepers, are so blatant in their financial motivations over any sense of institutional duty to inform the populace? The answer is, you don’t. I personally don’t watch much television news, but when I do I am extremely skeptical and I always call out the bull crap. Literally, I scream at the television and my family hates it.

Print media, in terms of news, has been in a natural decline since the rise of the World Wide Web. Younger people simply don’t read newspapers and they never will. Nor are they inclined to read established papers online because most are locked behind pay walls. I don’t fault the papers for this. Thoughtful, properly-investigated news-reporting costs money. It’s very important that people are fairly compensated for their work.

Funding news outlets in order to get fair and accurate journalism will continue to be a struggle. How do you get an entire generation of people who didn’t have to pay for music to pay for news and information online? For now, they are getting information from sites that don’t cost money. The reliability of these sites need to be evaluated.

Another reason many have been sliding into such a quagmire of mistrust is the rise of right-wing media. As a reaction to the perception of a liberal bias in many mainstream outlets [and this is not something I will deny exists, though I may argue as to the actual extent and intent and effect thereof—another time of course] media outlets from a conservative perspective began to proliferate after the demise of The Fairness Doctrine in the late 80s.

There is nothing inherently wrong with this. After all, if one believes that network television news is too biased in favor of left wing ideals, there is no reason a person should not seek out sources of information that align with their conservative viewpoint. A problem does arise, however, if that same person eschews all media other than this viewpoint. It is especially bad if they lack the skills needed to differentiate between news and opinion.

It got even worse when some of the loudest voices in right-wing media chose to back Trump during the primaries and that led to a schism between them and the so-called #NeverTrumpers. Right-wing media has gotten so good in the last 20 years at telling their audience that any other sources but themselves are lying and not to be trusted, that now there is rampant mistrust of even conservatives that do not back now-President-Elect Donald Trump.

In an August article from Business Insider, conservative radio host and author Charlie Sykes—and it should be noted, not a Trump fan—laments this reality,

One of the chief problems, Sykes said, was that it had become impossible to prove to listeners that Trump was telling falsehoods because over the past several decades, the conservative news media had “basically eliminated any of the referees, the gatekeepers.”

“There’s nobody,” he lamented. “Let’s say that Donald Trump basically makes whatever you want to say, whatever claim he wants to make. And everybody knows it’s a falsehood. The big question of my audience, it is impossible for me to say that, ‘By the way, you know it’s false.’ And they’ll say, ‘Why? I saw it on Allen B. West.’ Or they’ll say, ‘I saw it on a Facebook page.’ And I’ll say, ‘The New York Times did a fact check.’ And they’ll say, ‘Oh, that’s The New York Times. That’s bulls—.’ There’s nobody — you can’t go to anybody and say, ‘Look, here are the facts.'”

“And I have to say that’s one of the disorienting realities of this political year. You can be in this alternative media reality and there’s no way to break through it,” Sykes continued. “And I swim upstream because if I don’t say these things from some of these websites, then suddenly I have sold out. Then they’ll ask what’s wrong with me for not repeating these stories that I know not to be true.”

The entire article is highly recommended and available here.

Conservative media consumers are not the only ones sticking to their echo-chamber. Many liberals are equally guilty of living in a media bubble as well. People need to get out of their comfort zone and dialogue with others who have a different viewpoint.

Another problem with the state of information reliability is that too many people have also been led to not believe in any fact-checking sources. I think it’s okay to wary of fact-checking sources but to immediately dismiss any one of them off the bat shows a severe lack of common sense.

Let’s start with Snopes. Snopes began as, and is still more inclined towards, debunking urban legends and those awful forwarded e-mails we used to get before the rise of social media. The contents of those emails have now become Facebook posts that are liked and shared ad infinitum, so Snopes is researching and confirming/debunking their content as well.

The number one reason I have encountered for not believing anything from Snopes? Because it is a propaganda site owned by George Soros, who as you know is a nefarious billionaire who made his money selling out fellow Jews in WWII and is currently using his untold wealth to create a one world government on behalf of reptoid aliens from the trans-dimensional evil galactic empire. Or something like that.

The exact nature of Soros’ insidious presence in the world changes over time and I have not kept up since crawling out of the “conspiracies everywhere!” internet rabbit hole about 15 years ago. Don’t want to go back there.
*Looks over shoulder*

No matter what you think of George Soros, the fact is that there is no reliable evidence that he is beind or funding Snopes.com.

PolitiFact is another fact-checking site that has come under legitimate criticism. PolitiFact started as a project of the Tampa Bay Times and has expanded to include other journalists from various newspaper outlets. So knowing that, one should approach PolitiFact findings with the same healthy skepticism one would any newspaper or reporter: What is the exact claim that is being fact-checked? Are there any misleading conclusions that may not be readily apparent?

Like any source of information, just being cautious and knowing how to spot potential bias goes a long way. Completely rejecting everything an organization says is not doing anything good for you.

FactCheck.org is a project of The Annenberg Public Policy Center of the Annenberg School for Communication at The University of Pennsylvania. This is my personal favorite as it seems to be the most objective in nature. That doesn’t stop some people from saying it is biased.

I came across one “article” on some random site I will not link that claimed FactCheck has a liberal bias because even though Walter Annenberg was a Republican who supported Ronald Reagan, the foundation that bears his name also granted money to the Chicago Annenberg Challenge, a public-school initiative that has ties to bomb-making communist William Ayres and additionally, Barack Obama. Well. I am not going to dignify that twisted logic with a response because association fallacy.

I read it a lot, “Who checks the Fact-checkers? Well, WE do. The people reading the analyses do. Use your media literacy skills to detect any biases or misleading assertions. There is no legitimacy to the wholesale repudiation of any legitimate news organization. Do your due diligence. Being well-informed is work.

The answer to how we can possibly recover from this near-universal mistrust of news sources is another thing entirely. I obviously think that media literacy is one way, but how do we convince people to learn these skills? It’s my feeling that this is going to be the topic of many thinkpieces in the future. I will likely be writing some of them. Apparently I already am.

Put Down Your Torch and Pitchfork

“Everything we hate about the media today was present at its creation: its corrupt or craven practitioners, its easy manipulation by the powerful, its capacity for propagating lies, its penchant for amplifying rage.

Also present was everything we admire—and require—from the media: factual information, penetrating analysis, probing investigation, truth spoken to power.
Same as it ever was.”

— Brooke Gladstone, The Influencing Machine

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Art and Picture Collection, The New York Public Library. (1862). Tarring and feathering of Ambrose L. Kimball, editor of the Essex “Democrat,” Haverhill, Mass., a rebel-sympathizing journal. Retrieved from http://digitalcollections.nypl.org/items/510d47e0-f97c-a3d9-e040-e00a18064a99

Though it has roots going all the way back to the 1960s, one of the largest criticisms during this election cycle is the notion of the biased “liberal mainstream media” (MSM). Add to it now equally valid criticisms from those who feel that major media outlets have been derelict in their duty to report on events that are of importance, choosing instead to cover sensational “controversies.”

Both of these criticisms have merit, but is hardly reason to cheer for their downfall. A free press is integral to the functioning of a democratic republic. If people think The New York Times is so hopelessly biased that it deserves to go out of business, then let the market decide that if it will. But to say that journalists should be jailed, laugh when they receive death threats, to cheer at the thought of a politician shuttering a news organization through expensive litigation is irresponsible and downright un-American.

There are several problems with so many people lacking any trust whatsoever in major media outlets. One is a matter of lumping several outlets together in an attempt to define what is mainstream and what is not. Another is that since people have different reasons for their mistrust, they may retreat to clearly biased echo chambers from where honest rational discourse is no longer possible. Also when so many vilify the media, the public won’t be so alarmed when government comes chipping away at the freedom of the press and that will have devastating consequences for all of us, and must be avoided at all costs.

What is mainstream? What is alternative? There are likely as many different definitions as to what comprises the MSM as there are media outlets.

In the 80s it was the big three television networks’ news divisions, major newspapers like The New York Times and The Washington Post, and weekly news magazines Time, Newsweek and U.S. News and World Report. As far as cable news, CNN was the only game in town for a little over 15 years until MSNBC and FOX News Channel launched in 1996.

Now with the rise of the Internet and thousands of websites, podcasts, You Tube channels, and blogs, there are more sources of information than ever. Trying to peg down what would be considered mainstream and what would not is pointless. Maybe the distinction should be made between “old media” and “new media” but then you would not be able to speak of “mainstream” media.

I think it is important to be specific in your mistrust and not discount entire organizations. Just because you find one does a terrible job at delivering the news does not mean that they all do.

Find individual journalists you like who do good work. Maybe there is one person you like at a newspaper you don’t particularly care for. Read them specifically, follow them on social media platforms to see others they recommend you read. It is really important to find good journalists writing great work about important things. Abandoning the fourth estate is abandoning one of our core American freedoms.

Another danger of an “anti-news” outlook is that by turning completely away from strong institutional news organizations and flocking to partisan websites, one will only get biased news they agree with, except the rhetoric is turned up to 11 and the information is far less reliable.

This has been happening for some time with conservative consumers who are unable or unwilling to filter out any slanted commentary from traditional media sources, thus the growth of alternative news sites on the Internet increased exponentially during the Obama administration. Conservative news became even more fractured in the past year as many choose to abandon FOX News and other traditional sources filtered through a conservative lens because of perceived bias against Donald Trump.

If you are angry about bias in the media, it makes no sense to rely on sources that are even more biased; that just proves you are only interested in news promoting your own brand of bias. If you want to be informed it’s going to take some effort on your your part. Get media literate.

Finally, we tend to take our freedoms for granted in America. We are certainly allowed to express our displeasure at news outlets that don’t deliver. The best way to do that is to not use them: don’t buy that paper, don’t watch that network, call their advertisers if you want to make a stronger statement.

But what you should never do is support the criminal prosecution of journalists who have a different opinion than you. Don’t cheer on those who attempt to threaten to silence voices critical of those in power with litigation. Many Americans don’t realize that they are cheering for an end to a free press, which is a foundation of our Constitutional rights as defined in the First Amendment. Be careful what you wish for.

 

Clean Up Your Newsfeed

In talking about the rash of fake news sites out there it’s important to know that you have the power to limit your exposure to these and any other undesirable sites when you are on Facebook. All you have to do is use the blocking and/or reporting features embedded in every Facebook post. In the top right corner of every Facebook post is a small drop down arrow. Click it and a menu will pop up:

 

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From here you can do a few things. The options vary depending on how the link came to be in your time line. In this particular case, a friend had simply reacted to one of their friend’s posts and it appeared in my feed. So here I can:

  • Hide the post
  • Unfollow [friend]
  • Hide all from
  • Report post

You can simply Hide post and it will disappear from your timeline but that won’t always help to keep similar posts from showing up in your feed.

I don’t recommend Unfollowing your friends unless they are super annoying. Even then, check in from time to time to see if you can tolerate them again.

Often the Hide all from feature points to the actual source, but since in this case it was a friend of a friend scenario, it referred to that person’s name. But in most cases, the actual site is listed here so if you don’t want to see anything from a particular site, click this one and it is essentially a Block for the sites or their Pages.

And you don’t have to go crazy with this. It is important to expose yourself to alternative points of view. But the terrible sites don’t deserve to be rewarded with clicks, either from you or anyone else.

Now if you really want to help Facebook get rid of useless pages and groups, what you want to do is click on Report post. When you do that another menu pops up so you can give Facebook more information:

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If you just think it is annoying or not interesting, say so. This helps the robots to know what you don’t like so you see less of it. If you think it’s spam, say so. It will help the robots to weed out spammy posts. But my favorite is to click It shouldn’t be on Facebook because then you get another menu where you can be even more specific.

This does a long way to help Facebook understand its users and to apply more scrutiny to sites that are of no value in order to minimize their exposure. This will enable users to specifically identify things like fake news stories.

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Use of these features is not without problems. The Verge reported in 2014 that abuse of the Reporting feature was helping to silence voices of political dissent in Vietnam. And there is no doubt rampant abuse of this feature by people looking to hinder the spread of anything they don’t agree with. It isn’t a perfect system, but it’s something.

I urge everyone to make this a habit-when you are perusing your feed on Facebook and you see garbage, don’t just scroll on by. Take a few seconds to let Facebook know what you think. You will have a better experience because of it.

 

NOTE: Incidentally, if you look at the first screen cap above, there are two other handy features you may not be aware of.

Save link puts them a “folder” you can later access. I use this for recipes or articles I don’t have time to read.

Turn on notifications for this post is what you should do instead of cluttering up the comments of posts with all your silly “Following”s. You will receive notifications when there are new comments on the post.