by Barry A. Liebling
I own a small online site where I post my opinion columns. Everything that appears on my site is approved by me, and nothing is posted that is at odds with my sensibilities. When I have a disagreement with a writer or speaker (and this happens a lot) I am not shy about explaining why I think something is wrong. I take full responsibility for my own decisions.
The method I employ to edit my columns or remark on the content of others is simply to use my own judgment. I intend to be correct, and I understand that I might make errors, but I do not outsource the evaluation of what appears on my site.
My method could be used by any publisher of electronic content. Regardless of the size of a site, there is always an owner (or owners) who has an obligation to assure that the content meets the owner’s standards (whatever that might be).
Some of the largest (most powerful and influential) social media sites and media companies hire “outside fact checkers.” These outside agents are charged with monitoring content that appears on the site and identifying items that are “false,” “misleading,” “disinformation,” “out of context,” “disparaging to favored classes of people,” “much too kind to deplorable people,” “baseless,” “no basis in fact,” “a conspiracy theory,” and “promoting incorrect thinking.”
Fact checkers make recommendations, and “objectionable material” is removed from the client company’s site. This includes links that point to material that “irresponsible users” have posted on the site. The net effect is that these dominant sites are routinely scrubbed of content that fact checkers find objectionable.
Pull back and consider what is occurring. The owners and top management of the dominant media companies have a strong political orientation – progressive leftism. They want their users, viewers, and readers to pay attention and conform to their party line. So far, so good. In a free society it is acceptable to argue for your values. But they do not disclose their intentions honestly. Instead, they proclaim that they welcome a wide variety of views. They are unbiased and open to all “reasonable content.” They pretend that the only things they discard from their sites are items that any sensible person would recognize as illegitimate.
Notice I did not use the term “censorship,” which is an action that can only come through government action. As of now it is possible (although difficult) for private competitors to enter the market and challenge the biggest media players. While they are not censoring, the major companies are zealously editing, disparaging, concealing, and purging.
The upper management of dominant media firms know exactly what they regard as offensive. If they were candid they would simply say, “we do not publish things we do not like, and we aim to minimize the exposure of material that is at odds with our preferences.” As I have written previously, that would be coming clean. http://www.alertmindpublishing.com/data/2020-columns-2/social-media-should-come-clean-2020-oct/
But instead of being straight with the public, the titans of the internet hire surrogates – the “independent fact checkers.” This is parallel to the crime boss who lets his goons do the dirty work. The big boss never gets his own hands dirty, but it is obvious to an alert observer who is responsible for the felonies.
Look at what is accomplished when fact checkers are used. Most important, the executives of the media companies claim it is not themselves, but “fair-minded” outsiders who are flagging content that does not deserve to be seen. Just like gangsters who use low-ranking thugs to commit their crimes, media bosses pretend to be unaware. If there is a scandal, if users and viewers catch fact checkers engaging in mischief, top management can feign surprise and innocence.
Delegating the editing function to outside fact checkers can be comforting to leftists. Many hyper-partisan progressives want to be regarded (falsely) as being open-minded and essentially neutral on important issues. They can reassure themselves that content has been sanitized, and the agents accomplishing the task are not members of corporate management but unbiased discerners of truth.
Consider this fun question. Suppose fact checkers working for Google, or Facebook, or Twitter were to excoriate leftist content while giving conservative and libertarian items a pass. How long would it take for top management to replace these rebels with others that know what is expected of them?
The myth of independent fact checkers is designed to disarm content creators. It signals that instead of confronting the media bosses if there are problems, they need to deal with outsiders. And these agents constitute a buffer that shields the bosses from conflict. People who want to post items that are at odds with the politics of the woke elite are being told they are free to do so – as long as they refrain from being misleading. But to the media elite, “misleading” means disagreeing with them. And the fact checker surrogates know how to do their job.
Here is advice to media top management. Stop pretending. Display courage. Get rid of the outside fact checkers. Do the editing yourself.
*** See other entries at AlertMindPublishing.com in “Monthly Columns.” ***