The truth doesn't pay - Shawn Loughlin editorial
Last week, for about a day, The Citizen Facebook page was inactive. It had been unpublished, which meant it was still visible to us, but not members of the public. We didn’t unpublish it, nor were we told why it happened. “Your page, The Citizen, has been unpublished,” is all the information we received. All we could do was appeal.
To Facebook’s credit, our page was restored in under 24 hours. The company, which sits at number five on the Forbes list of the world’s most valuable brands at over $70 billion (though that has dropped by 21 per cent since last year as its reputation has taken hit after hit), is not known for its prompt customer service, so we weren’t holding our breath.
You have to understand, Facebook has taken a huge bite out of media outlets, both in terms of advertising revenue and easy distribution of news (both real and fake), so for the company to shutter a legitimate community newspaper page felt like adding insult to injury. This at a time when we watch other local pages spread lies and misinformation, only to flourish, while we have to appeal to get our page back.
Since its inception, Facebook has taken little responsibility for the actions of its members. Users have increasingly used the platform to spread hate, propaganda and straight-up lies, influencing everyone from regular people to some of the world’s highest-ranking officials. But unlike a newspaper, which is responsible for the accuracy of its contents, Facebook has taken a landlord-like approach; once people are on Facebook, what they do is up to them.
A recent documentary on U.S. President Donald Trump detailed the extent to which Russian hackers would go in order to spread misinformation and serve the interests of the highest bidder. There were fake accounts, of course, but they created fake local news sources and organizations to amplify those voices. In one example – during the conflict between Russia and Ukraine – hackers were charged with finding and rewriting established news articles, but any reference to Russian “terrorists” was to be changed to “militia”, changing the entire context and posting the doctored articles to legitimate-looking sites.
Last week, The New York Times reported that Facebook has the means control the spread of fake news – which flies in the face of Mark Zuckerberg taking no responsibility for content – but has chosen not to use it, prioritizing profit over accuracy.
In the days after last month’s presidential election, misinformation was spreading like wildfire, so Facebook altered its algorithm for news, prioritizing outlets with high NEQ, or news ecosystem quality scores, meaning news from publishers producing quality journalism was being seen by over two billion people per day instead of links from hyperpartisan pages.
Facebook employees who were interviewed said the results created a calmer, less divisive Facebook and argued the changes should be permanent. The article reports of a fear associated with permanent changes to the algorithm, citing the potential for hits to profits, growth and the possibility of regulation. Other changes, aimed at flagging and removing hate speech and fake news, have also been shunned, showing that Facebook could be better, but chooses not to be.
So, while The Citizen may not matter much to Facebook, our accurate, local news matters to us and to our readers. And despite the fact that we won’t generate as many clicks as Breitbart or similar local pages pushing trash, we’ll keep fighting the good fight, navigating this marriage of inconvenience with Facebook.