Life, liberty—and the pursuit of profits.
Facebook, Twitter and YouTube finally enacted their own terms of service. And all it took was an attempted coup on U.S. soil.
For years, these platforms have hosted, promoted and monetized against the very kinds of dangerous misinformation that drove rioters to the U.S. Capitol on Wednesday. Outrage is the coin of the realm for these platforms, an effort to keep you engaged and enraged—and coming back for more.
Only when our Democracy was under assault and the president they had feared would slap them with regulations had two weeks left in office did platforms manage to find their better angels.
We, the people, deserve better.
To be clear, this is not a First Amendment debate. (The First Amendment protects us from the government curbing free speech—not companies.) When Facebook and others invoke the First Amendment in defense of their decision to keep up misinformation and outrage, they are simply disguising a business decision as championing civil liberties.
The efforts to guard against misinformation have been anemic at best. (Full disclosure: I was part of the team at ABC News that helped Facebook try to fact-check posts of dubious provenance. It was akin to spitting in the ocean.) But there is no true incentive to change: Just look at Facebook’s stock price.
Social platforms are poor stewards of information (and our data—but that’s another topic). Not only should they be regulated—but also news publishers would be wise to pull their reporting from these platforms where their journalism is elevated alongside the rants of conspiracy theorists.
The delicate and deliberate decisions about what to broadcast widely are the types of tough choices newsrooms make dozens of times a day: What voices to elevate; what reporting is credible enough to broadcast; when it’s appropriate to use the term “rioters” over “protesters,” etc. They do it under great breaking news pressure and with much internal discussion.
They do this because words matter. Truth matters. And journalism matters.
The only way we can continue to form a more perfect union is if we support journalism that holds truth to power, that seeks the truth regardless of where it leads and that shines a light where it is dark. Journalists must take back the power they've ceded to social platforms.
It’s Our Republic, if we can keep it.
Let’s Go Forth,