Why we should be wary of Facebook cracking down on Fake News

“If a population is to escape tyranny, it must have a free-thinking attitude towards its government and the theories upon which its government is based; that is to say, it must demand that the government act in the general interest, and [it] must not be deceived by a superstitious theology into the belief that what is in fact only the interest of the governing clique is identical to the general interest.”

-Bertrand Russell, 1944

Now that Facebook is taking steps to crack down on fake news; one might assume that most would be worried by such actions, however, it seems that many are instead, lauding the new regulation – which is unfortunate, as cracking down on the free-flow of information, in the name of preventing miseducation, is a practice which can be maliciously used by certain interests who benefit from that very source providing said information, to subtly impose a contrived narrative amongst its unwitting users.

By no means is this for sure the case, in the matter of these recent revelations of Facebook cracking down on ‘fake news’, however, if we look beyond the surface of what Facebook poses itself as – a benevolent website which allows people to connect, learn and keep tabs on people’s life – rather than a business, or corporation, who’s main goal is to obtain the most profit, along with appeasing advertisers, shareholders and business partners, we can slowly start to unravel the feel-good veneer of promoting an ‘authentic conversation‘, along with the goal of fostering an “informed society” that is used as reasoning for this new censorship, and realize there might be something more sinister at play.

We first need to understand the fact that, fake news, or what many people contend, was the relatively new phenomenon that propelled Donald Trump into presidency.  According to the critics, many purveyors of alt-right information; or anti-Clinton material, used Facebook as a vehicle to promote their agenda which essentially persuaded voters to vote against Clinton, or for Trump.

Once we take this into consideration; we can consider the fact that by cracking down on ‘fake news’, or on inorganic, shill-like activity which seeks to push a certain viewpoint, we can reasonably come to the conclusion, that Facebook will be targeting a certain viewpoint that it, or others, might consider a threat to their business model.  Certainly, with Facebook cracking down on 30,000 accounts in relation to far-right populist presidential candidate Marine Le-Pen, it is not unreasonable to come to this very conclusion; rather, it seems quite logical, considering the fact that Donald Trump and many other populist/nationalist leaders, are opposed to the interests of many powerful lobbies.

Certainly, one can contend that, even if this is the case, it is right to crack down on fake news, or users who seek to push an agenda, as it misinforms society, which leads to an uninformed populace.

Perhaps so, but, we also need to take a look at the bigger picture, and realize that there are many more figures at play, who benefit from pushing a biased narrative.

And this is is much more widespread than one might believe.  We know that giant corporations spend millions of dollars a year on PR and astroturfing; so as to maintain a certain narrative surrounding them, or to eliminate or neutralize any bad press that might be associated with them.

Yet, what does this have to do with Facebook banning fake news?

Well, we need to first make the point that 6 corporations control 90% of the media consumed by Americans daily.  Now that Facebook has become such a large purveyor of aggregate news, giving it the legitimate ability to greatly influence one’s viewpoint, it has become a problem for many corporations who spend millions on PR, while having a website, once simply meant for online discourse, that circumvents the doctored obfuscation, informing people with news/information, that these large corporations do not want you to see.

So, perhaps you might think that all this might be a giant conspiracy, or perhaps these corporations do benefit from the cracking down on subversive information, yet you think this is not a big deal and does not affect me.

However, we need to understand that in PR, these people are some of the top psychologists and have a sublime understanding of how the human mind works, and how they can subtly persuade/influence you.

And certainly, just as these alt-right news sources benefit from persuading you, so to do these other giant corporations, who clearly have their own nefarious interests at play, and who, rather than acting as impartial watchdogs in our democratic society, are giant private corporations, just like Facebook, and who, in the end are in the business of making the most money – and by doing so, are looking to push a viewpoint which benefits them to the highest degree.

If you don’t believe me, we can take a look at these corporations, and see, that they are certainly not impartial, and are very likely, just as biased as these ‘alt-right’ or Russian news sources who Facebook, is likely looking to crack down on.  And by cracking down on one form of bias, Facebook will potentially be artificially subjecting its users to another one, tenfold.  Here are the six corporations controlling the media, and some examples of how they egregiously act in their own interest:

Comcast:

  • Donated nearly $500,000 to Hillary Clinton’s campaign
  • Owns NBC, MSNBC, CNBC, Vox, Buzzfeed
  • Brian Roberts CEO of Comcast, donated thousands to the Democrats
  • David Cohen, Comcast’s top lobbyist and primary power broker hosted a $2700-a-plate fundraiser for Hillary Clinton’s presidency, raised 2.22 million for the president’s election campaigns
  • Spent over 30 million dollars lobbying in 2015 and 2016
  • 111 out of 138 Comcast lobbyists in 2015-2016 previously held government jobs

Walt Disney Company:

  • Donated around $400,000 to Hillary Clinton’s campaign
  • Steve Jobs’ widow owned around 130.8 million shares and was among the top donor of “Ready For Hillary”, a SuperPAC that raised $6 million to support a Clinton presidential run
  • Robert Iger, CEO of Walt Disney Company and member on the Board of Directors, personally held a fundraiser and donated to Clinton.  In 2010, Obama appointed him to the President’s Export Council, an “American government organization that serves as the principal national advisory committee on international trade.”
  • Sheryl Sandberg, COO of Facebook, sits on the Board of Directors at Walt Disney Company
  • Owns ABC, ESPN, and more
  • Nearly 7.57 million combined in 2015, 2016 lobbying expenditures

Time Warner

  • Spent around $5.7 million dollars in 2015 and 2016 on lobbying
  • Spent $550,000 on Hillary Clinton’s campaign
  • Owns Time Magazine, CNN, HBO, Warner Bros
  • CNN has shown extreme political bias towards Clinton, involved in many scandals
  • 32 out of 34 Time Warner Lobbyists in 2013-2014 previously held government jobs

News Corp

  • Owns WSJ, Fox, New York Post, 21st century Fox, owns shares in Vice
  • James Murdoch COO of 21st century Fox donated over a million dollars to Hillary Clinton’s campaign, News Corp donated $500,000
  • Over $11,000,000 in combined lobbying in 2015 and 2016
  • “Rupert Murdoch (who owns effective control of News Corp) expects his papers to stand broadly for what he believes… a radical right dose of free market economics and hard line conservative views on subjects like drugs, abortion, defense and law and order”

NAI – CBS and Viacom

  • NAI holds 79.7% of CBS voting stock and 79.5% of Viacom’s.  80% of NAI stock owned by Sumner Redstone
  • Sumner Redstone, owner of CBS and Viacom is a self-described “Liberal-democrat”.
  • Donated around $400,000 to Hillary Clinton’s campaign
  • Four organizations to lobby for its interests: the Motion Pictures Association of America, National Association of Theatre Owners, National Association of Broadcasters and National Cable and Telecommunications Association
  • Lobbied nearly $8.5 million in 2016
  • 31 our of 38 National Amusement Inc. lobbyists in 2015-2016 have previously held government jobs

Indeed, all these companies, although appearing to be in direct competition with each other, benefit from the same policies, which is: deregulation of media-markets, an emphasis on global trade agreements, repealing net neutrality and intellectual copyright, amongst many others.  It should come as no surprise then, that all these companies listed above are collectively part of a lobbying organization called the Motion Pictures Association of America (MPAA).  Not surprisingly, the MPAA only donated to one candidate in Hillary Clinton and furthermore, Chris Dodd, CEO of the organization, had openly stated his support and endorsement for Hillary Clinton.  These corporations, all also collectively support(ed) undemocratic bills like TPP, SOPA and PIPA.

Furthermore, we should also be weary of trillion dollar investment fund managers like BlackRock and Vanguard.  They are respectively the largest asset management firms in the world, holding a combined AUM (assets under management) of approximately 8 trillion dollars.   Both of them are some of the largest shareholders in News Corp., Time Warner, 21st Century Fox, CBS, Disney, Comcast, Facebook and many other large corporations. These fund managers who are the largest shareholders of these corporations, hold serious sway and influence on decision making, and it seems reasonable to assume that they would influence Facebook to do the most appropriate thing for its other investments to ensure their best interests are protected.

More so, the BlackRock connection goes deeper as Jessica P. Einhorn, who sits on the Time Warner Board of Directors, is also a Director of BlackRock and a member of the Council of Foreign Relations.

We also have many executives from these media corporations on the Council on Foreign Relations – one, if not the most influential policy-planning organizations in the US.  Carol Melton and Gary Ginsberg, both Executive Vice Presidents of Time Warner are members.  So to is Ben Sherwood, Co-Chair of Disney Media and Maria Elena Lagomasino, director of Walt Disney Co.

Another potential conflict of interest can be found through a lobbying group called Fwd.us, a group co-founded by Mark Zuckerberg and other large name CEO’s advocating for immigration reform amongst other things.  On their website, one of their main goals is to “create a pathway for citizenship of 11 million people (amount of estimate undocumented immigrants living in the US)”, whereas Trump on the other hand, has threatened these 11 million people with deportation.  Zuckerberg, who owns Facebook, can use his platform as a subtle way to undermine and ridicule the same demographic who might hold his same beliefs.  (see removal of Le-Pen accounts).

Moreover, Facebook and Google work with giant Orwellian-like intelligence agencies like the NSA and GCHQ, through programs called Prism, XKeyscore and Tempora.  This underlies nefarious collusion with powerful, unelected, bureaucratic figures in the government who certainly benefit from maintaining a certain status-quo.  Indeed, GCHQ, London’s spy agency who works closely with the NSA, has a branch called JTRIG, who is tasked with disrupting and artificially creating certain viewpoints on the internet.

Saying all this, with an increasing partisan media-landscape, Facebook has represented a diverse platform for viewpoints as anybody, no matter how insignificant, had the ability to spread their viewpoint.   Indeed, in the post-internet age, Facebook is one of the last bastions of a popular, unregulated platform where independent media producers could advertise on a large scale, without needing exuberant sums of money.  Taking that away gives the giant media corporations even more consolidation of power, which cuts off important stories/topics from people that likely would not be covered by these mainstream media agencies, as they have their own interests at play.

No doubt, Facebook’s crack down on ‘Fake News’ will serve to eliminate plurality; all the while pushing a singularity of corporate-backed viewpoints,  similar to the news landscape we see on television.

Therefore, it seems reasonable to state that through this new advent, Facebook is not just looking out for users’ best interests or for maintenance of an organic conversation (which is already ridiculous as advertisers spend lots of money on ads and appearance on posts appearing in people’s newsfeeds, which in itself is inorganic), but is seeking to appease its shareholders/partners/business associates/lobbyists/government officials (NSA) and by doing so, is hampering a necessary discourse and plurality of news/information that is beneficial to a functioning and healthy democracy.

Oliver Wendell Holmes argued that ‘all voices and viewpoints should be given a fair hearing and that people should have access to diverse information.’  Indeed, with an ever-changing political landscape, media/journalism is the only thing that keeps us informed of the going-ons in our society.  Now that Facebook has obtained a large monopoly on news aggregation where they are now seeking to cut down on fake news they don’t approve on, this will keep many in the dark and indoctrinated within the status-quo viewpoint.

People might contest that fake news is a real thing and a real problem, however; should we give up our liberty for the few uninformed users?  Should we seek to coddle the users who are unable to discern real news from fake, while potentially leaving the informed one’s in the dark; or should we leave the system as it is, unfettered – and although perhaps misleading – diverse, democratic, informative – while presenting a moderately fair representation of all viewpoints.

John Stuart Mill, the greatest liberal philosopher of the 19th century stated that, “The only way in which a human being can make some approach to knowing the whole of a subject, is by hearing what can be said about it by persons of every variety of opinion, and studying all modes in which it can be looked at by every character of mind.” Indeed, “no wise man ever acquired his wisdom in any mode but this; nor is it in the nature of human intelligence to become wise in any other manner.”

Perhaps if Zuckerberg were to read Mill’s On Liberty, he would see that in his attempts to crack down on Fake News, he is serving to not help humanity; but rather to harm it.

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About Jake Beaumont 54 Articles
BA in Media Studies from the University of Guelph. Graduated from the University of Guelph-Humber with a Diploma in Journalism. Former Research Analyst for Honest Reporting Canada. Published in the Huffington Post, Vancouver Province and many other newspapers across Canada. Specializes in Middle-East politics. Currently situated in Toronto.

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