Zuckerberg Declares Private Companies Should Not be Arbiters of Truth

image credit: Anthony Quintano

By Chand Bellur

May 29, 2020 at 2:47 p.m. PT

  • Donald J. Trump and Twitter are embroiled in conflict over censorship, as the social media company continues to moderate his tweets gently.
  • Zuckerberg jumped into the fray, criticizing Twitter for censoring Trump and declaring that private companies “shouldn’t be the arbiter of truth”.
  • Like every social media company, Facebook moderates users, deletes offending accounts, and runs a news service, making them arbiters of truth.

Social Media: A Landscape of Lies

Remember the good old days when we went to websites and posted comments? Texting, email, and phone calls kept us in contact with our family, friends, and co-workers. This wasn’t enough for some. The prospect of creating private networks, controlled by corporations, so we could virtually socialize and meet more people led to the rise of social media.

Narcissism got the better of most people. Social media grew, as it allowed people to boast or even fabricate aspects of their lives. This pathological dishonesty and braggadocious behavior now pervade digital society.

Are you looking to date someone? Their photos are probably fake, as is everything else on their profile. People will often misrepresent themselves as wealthy and successful on social media, to impress or irritate their friends. If that’s not enough, photo filters allow people to falsify their physical reality completely. Then there are exaggerated, inflated, and dishonest ads for products inserted into social media feeds. Fake news, fake people and fake everything permeate social media, yet people still rely on these platforms for information.

Misinformation is the rule, not the exception, on social media. Unfortunately, many still believe what they read on social media, particularly when it comes from the President of the United States.

No news is bad news for Donald Trump. He relies on instigation and provocation to appeal to his base. Twitter, his favorite social media platform, is regularly used to spread his misinformation. It’s par for the course on social media; however, the aftermath of Trump’s surprising election creates the impetus for change. 

People obtain information from social media. It’s not just entertainment anymore. Like any corporate news organization, many feel social media platforms have a responsibility to moderate content, preventing the dissemination of dangerous information.

It’s illegal to yell “fire” in a crowded theater. Similarly, many people feel it should be unlawful to tweet that it’s open season on looters or that an unproven drug is beneficial. Social media’s reach allows famous yet malicious authors to do severe damage. Social media isn’t just speech. With its greater reach, social media can cause far more harm than cable news. The fact that it’s haphazardly moderated and usually false augments this societal damage.

Zuckerberg Piles On Trump/Twitter Conflict

Donald Trump and Twitter have a strained relationship. Trump dislikes that Twitter has been “censoring” his tweets; however, addicted to the platform, he can’t stop posting. Instead of moving to another social media app, he’s decided to reform the whole industry, holding social media companies responsible for their content.

Trump’s fiery rhetoric and inflammatory tactics are ratcheting up as election day nears. His tweets have become more incendiary and false. Continually tweeting about mythological conspiracy theories, false theories on mail-in ballots, and encouraging authorities to open fire on looters in Minnesota forced Twitter to take action. The San Francisco based social media company recently started gentle moderation of Trump’s tweets. Twitter would permanently ban any non-celebrity who attempted anything half as caustic as Trump.

Twitter does not delete Trump’s tweets. Instead, they place links to factual information, which Trump considers censorship. Today, when Trump encouraged shooting looters, Twitter covered up the message, explaining that it violated their violence policy. However, they allow people to view the tweet with one click.

Twitter’s moderation of Trump is reminiscent of Monty Python’s Spanish Inquisition sketch. While others would be permanently banned, Twitter “tortured” Trump with the comfy chair, which he feels is the hot seat.

The conflict resulted in Trump’s executive order, which aims at redefining section 230 of the Communications Decency Act. This piece of legislation states that tech corporations are not responsible for their users’ content. It also stipulates that they can moderate their users as they see fit.

Mark Zuckerberg opined on the matter, putting forth the notion that private corporations “shouldn’t be the arbiter of truth”. The problem with this statement is that virtually every arbiter of truth in our society is a corporation. Apart from public broadcasting, corporations provide our news. Cable news networks are mostly biased, with some siding with Republicans and others with Democrats. Zuckerberg’s true goal may be to attract Twitter’s golden goose, Donald Trump, over to his own social media platform.

Zuckerberg Wooing Trump to Instagram?

Trump adores Zuckerberg’s response to the issue, quickly retweeting memes with his “arbiter of truth” statement. Trump’s relationship with Twitter may come to an end, however, as the company continues its lightweight moderation of the President.

The problem with Zuckerberg’s statement is that Facebook itself has a news portal. It’s called Facebook News, and it, like all news organizations, is an arbiter of truth. Much like Zuckerberg’s bewildered Congressional testimony, this once again underscores that he doesn’t understand what his own company offers.

Facebook also routinely deletes users and messages. If you try to connect with too many people at once, Facebook will stop that too. It’s one of the most heavy-handed and controlling social media experiences on the planet. The company famously invested heavily in hiring moderators. Now Mark Zuckerberg claims they shouldn’t be arbiters of truth, which essentially means anyone can post anything. The truth is, moderation is for average customers. It doesn’t apply to lucrative sacred cows like Trump.

Given the lack of veracity, Zuckerberg’s statement likely has another intention. He’s positioning himself as Trump’s ally in this battle, perhaps hoping he will jump ship and use Facebook’s Instagram platform instead of Twitter. Although the two platforms are somewhat different, they serve the same purpose — disseminating small messages and images to followers.

Silicon Valley elites talk in magnanimous platitudes, but at the end of the day, they only care about money. Zuckerberg isn’t concerned with freedom of speech. It doesn’t exist on Facebook or Instagram. He’s trying to woo Trump to his platform, exclusively, to boost traffic, user activity, and ad revenues.

Donald Trump is on Instagram; however, he has just below twenty million followers. Over four times as many people follow him on Twitter. Given that Facebook and Instagram censor, moderate, and delete offending users, they’ve been arbiters of truth for some time. Mark Zuckerberg and the truth, however, seem to be at odds once again.

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