Giant digital companies don’t like to admit error. Or fix the problem and apologize.
Facebook, the world’s biggest social network, is a prime example. It has pledged to “keep working to find ways” to prevent bad information flowing onto its platform. That includes trolls and hackers.
It doesn’t include doctored videos that make House Speaker Nancy Pelosi appear to slur her words as if she’s on drugs or booze.
Facebook’s rationale: It doesn’t want to discourage free expression and reducing (not eliminating) distribution strikes a balance. By reducing it means restricting how often the videos show up in user news feeds.
“In other words,” said the company, “we allow people to post it as a form of expression, but we’re not going to show it at the top of the News Feed."
And, Facebook's Monika Bickert added, "We think it's important for people to make their own informed choice as to what to believe."
That’s even as it warns Facebook users that the videos have been electronically distorted and portray misleading behavior.
So much digital doublespeak.
The Pelosi videos are clearly intended to portray the speaker in a false light. That would be grounds for legal action were she not a national political figure.
Fake videos are the same as a lie, a form of propaganda Facebook has said it will not permit on its platform. Yet it resists requests to take down the doctored clips.
No one seems to know who tricked up the videos in the first place.
So where does Pelosi go to get her video reputation back?
Not to Mark Zuckerberg or anyone else at Facebook. They’re standing strong for deceitful expression.
Not to the Federal Communications Commission or any other government agency. Social networks are not regulated. Yet.
Pelosi’s best chance for making her case is public opinion. And that’s divided along partisan lines.
Democrats are outraged over the sham videos. Republicans not so much. Independents are split. But nobody wants it to happen to them.
President Trump, the head of the GOP, retweeted a 30-second version of an altered video shown a week ago on Fox Business News, describing it as “PELOSI STAMMERS THROUGH NEWS CONFERENCE.” More than 2.5 million of his Twitter followers have viewed it.
Earlier in the day, reacting to Pelosi questioning his fitness for office, he called her “crazy,” adding: “She is not the same person. She has lost it.”
So goes the sad state of our political discourse in polarized America. Especially over social networks.
Bad actors, including foreign governments, see social media as an effective way to spread lies and hoodwink the public. They give free expression an ugly name.
To its credit, Google’s YouTube network removed the altered videos from its platform. It also had pledged to flag fake news and delete it under guidelines that prohibit devious posts aimed at circulating falsehoods.
Facebook should follow suit and take down the videos even though they have been copied so many times it is impossible to put the toxic toothpaste back in the tube.
It is a matter of fairness and trust.
If social media want to be seen as politically impartial and trustworthy, they need to get serious about rooting out information that plays fast and loose with the truth.
Bill Ketter is senior vice president of news for CNHI, LLC. Reach him at firstname.lastname@example.org.