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Brian Mark Weber / Jan. 5, 2018

Social Media Tribalism and 'Fake News'

Facebook has yet another strategy to influence what its users see and believe about the world.

Leftists in this country really have a problem with the free flow of information, and they’ll do anything they can to control the exchange of ideas on the airwaves, in print, or on the Internet. What they couldn’t do through net neutrality regulations they’re doing via other means, but the goal is the same: to determine for all those brainwashed deplorables out there what is truth and what is fake news.

Good luck with that.

Facebook already suppressed conservative news in its feed and then tried to label fake news in order to tamp down the conservative message, but it backfired and actually resulted in more interest in the “fake” pieces. But there’s more to this, at least where Facebook executives are concerned. They’re worried that many Americans might actually favor all those really popular ideas like stopping illegal immigration, lowering corporate taxes, deciding whether to purchase health insurance, and keeping their own doctors. Believing that average Americans are too stupid to know any better, Facebook is now helpfully suggesting further reading along with news reports and articles via its “Related Articles” feature.

Facebook states that “academic research on correcting misinformation has shown that putting a strong image, like a red flag, next to an article may actually entrench deeply held beliefs — the opposite effect to what we intended.” It’s like a university marking The Federalist Papers as a suspicious book, but discovering that it caused a rush at the campus book store. (If only that would happen.)

Facebook’s Big Brotherly policy goes on to state that “Related Articles, by contrast, are simply designed to give more context, which our research has shown is a more effective way to help people get to the facts. Indeed, we’ve found that when we show Related Articles next to a false news story, it leads to fewer shares than when the Disputed Flag is shown.”

Does anyone want Facebook, Twitter, MSNBC or the government determining what is fake or what is factual? And where was the hullabaloo about fake news before Donald Trump became president or before conservatives discovered the mediums of talk radio and the Internet? For decades the truth didn’t matter, but now it’s so important that we need others to verify the truth for us in advance? This is nonsensical, not to mention dangerous.

Jim Geraghty writes, “‘Fake news’ doesn’t just come from Moscow or Lithuanian server farms. It comes anytime someone offers something false, inaccurate, or deeply misleading, and people choose to believe it and spread it to their friends. In many cases, those who spread it and amplify it want it to be true, because it confirms part of their previous worldview. If you hate Republicans, you want to believe that their tax bill is doing nothing but terrible things to good people, that it’s living up to Nancy Pelosi’s label of ‘Armageddon,’ and that it’s taking away health care from innocent 7-year-old autistic boys. If this dire scenario is true, it means you, the good outspoken liberal who keeps berating your relatives for their intolerably retrograde political views at Thanksgiving, is a hero, and your relatives are monsters for disagreeing with you.”

But this goes far beyond disagreements at Thanksgiving dinner. This progressive effort to control “fake news” is being sold as a response to Russia trying to steal the election from Hillary Clinton by infiltrating social media. (Yes, millions of people still really believe the Russians tipped the election in favor of Donald Trump. Except there’s no evidence, and what few real facts we have easily shoot down the conspiracy theory.)

Case in point: The notion that the Russians used Facebook to spread fake news about Clinton clearly falls flat on its face when real facts are analyzed.

Philip H. Devoe writes, “Democratic strongholds such as Maryland and Washington, D.C., were targeted significantly more than swing states such as Wisconsin and Pennsylvania; more of the geographically targeted ads ran in 2015 than 2016; ad spending in Wisconsin totaled just $44 during the general election, against $1,925 during the primary; and Pennsylvania’s ad spending totaled $300.”

Got that? The Russians spent $44 in critical Wisconsin. And somehow this pittance had a greater influence on the Dairy State’s voters than Hillary Clinton’s failure to make even a single stop there during the general election season?

The numbers don’t lie. Clearly, the Russians were either inept in their understanding of how to throw an election to Republicans (you can’t paint Maryland red no matter how many Facebook ads you run in the state) or they weren’t trying to influence the outcome of the election at all. Facebook, perhaps more than any other social media platform, makes it pretty easy for anyone with an Internet connection to target specific demographics and influence voters with ads. A high school student could’ve tampered with public opinion during the election in a more effective manner than the Russians.

As Philip Bump states in The Washington Post, “The unusual possibilities offered by Facebook targeting can help contribute to the sense that the Russians did something especially clever. But there’s a difference between a sophisticated tool and sophisticated targeting.”

The concerted effort to shield the public from alleged fake news is nothing more than an attempt to control our access to information. For all the talk about keeping the Internet neutral, the Left sure does a good job of skewing information in its favor. But in the end, these attempts to identify what is fake or what is real will fail. Since the founding of the republic, newspapers and the media have twisted the facts or simply fabricated information to form opinions in the minds of readers and viewers. Somehow, there have always been enough smart people to separate fact from fiction.

And that’s what really bothers the manipulators of information. Whether through “Related Articles” on Facebook, selective silencing of Twitter accounts, or the many left-leaning “fact-check” websites, when progressives try to make up our minds for us, we tend to seek out other platforms for sharing ideas. It’s called freedom. And it’s worth defending.

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