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Column

#ThisZucks

“Bringing the World Closer Together.” Facebook, Inc.’s motto may not hold as much weight today as it did before the 2016 U.S. presidential election.

Facebook founder and CEO Mark Zuckerberg sat before two U.S. Senate Committees this week in two days of testimony answering lawmakers’ questions about the data improperly taken from 87 million of its users.

Zuckerberg admitted they did not do enough to make sure the British political consulting firm Cambridge Analytica — a company that worked with President Trump’s 2016 campaign — did not continue its data gathering operation from Facebook users, a process that violated Facebook’s own policies.

He conceded Facebook has not done enough to flag and take down pages promoting and spreading fake news or watching for state and foreign actors attempting to use the vast social network to influence U.S. elections.

Before the days of social media, if you saw someone shouting on a downtown Des Moines street corner that aliens were coming, or the president of the United States was not a natural born citizen, you’d probably walk right by and pay them no mind. It’s their right to say it and if they’re not inciting violence, go right on ahead. But that doesn’t mean it’s relevant news.

But in this time of social media, every opinion is given the same level or credence in the marketplace of ideas. This could lead to an undiscovered brilliant inventor getting noticed, or 1.2 million views for Info Wars with Alex Jones when he’s talking about a secret government plot to create human/animal hybrids. People believe him because he sounds confident and authoritative.

Social networks have grown so fast in both size and power over our society, that they have not had the time to define what their role should be. Facebook and platforms like it should be champions of free speech around the world, but I also see their function like that of the newspaper publishers of the mid-20th century.

Facebook should align itself with the New York Times’ motto “All the News that’s Fit to Print.” If a Facebook user, whether an individual or company, is acting as a journalist on social media, they need a proper editor and fact checker. No legitimate newspaper publisher would allow non-verifiable news to hit the newsstands. News that is printed in the Times, the Washington Post or the Newton Daily News is vetted by professionals before it’s sent to press. We do this to ensure our readers get the most accurate information possible, are not misled and can make informed decisions as consumers, citizens and voters.

Facebook needs to rely on algorithms as well as human editors and content fact-checkers who can tell the difference between a credible news source and a distributor or fake propaganda — a human being who can disseminate the difference between parody and boldface lies.

To represent yourself as a news source on a private company’s third-party distribution platform — which is essentially what Facebook is — you should have to go through an application process. According to Facebook itself, the company had 1.4 billion daily active users on average as of December 2017. That is a lot of influence on a global scale, and Facebook has a responsibility to correctly curate information presented as fact-based news that the company allows to appear in the “news feeds” of its individual users.

Contact Mike Mendenhall at mmendenhall@newtondailynews.com

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