America has a Mark Zuckerberg problem

Trump's willing accomplice

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If Trump has a chance of being re-elected this year, that chance runs right through Facebook and its compliant CEO, Mark Zuckerberg.

He's already given the Trump campaign a green light to lie incessantly on social media by announcing Facebook would not police false political content, and that candidates could post whatever misinformation they wanted. Then this week, Zuckerberg lashed out at Twitter, criticizing the social media giant for having the temerity to fact check one of Trump's blatantly false tweets.

We also just learned an internal Facebook report from 2018 confirmed that the company's refusal to address rampant political misinformation among users was driving people apart. Facebook executives, having watched the platform help elect Trump in 2016, quietly shelved the report's findings, in part because they were afraid conservatives would be upset at Facebook for trying to reign in disinformation and divisive content.

Note:  Bullying works.

Facebook has committed itself to Trump's re-election, and it now mirrors Fox News in terms of media outlets that are doing damage to our democracy. "History will record Mark Zuckerberg as a singularly destructive force," tweeted Ben Rhodes, who served as President Barack Obama's Deputy National Security Advisor.

Ratcheting up the bullying and the bluster, Trump on Thursday signed an executive order urging the federal government to increase regulations on social media outlets, which conservative accuse of having a "liberal bias." The threats play a key role in Trump's re-election strategy because he wants to flood social media with lies and bogus political attacks and be sure that nobody will be policing him. Facebook is only too happy to help. “They don't want to be regulated. So they pander to the White House," Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi stressed yesterday.

Trump's online reelection campaign is unlike any in American history, simply because it's willfully detached from the truth. A Trump campaign ad last year asserted, "Joe Biden promised Ukraine $1 billion dollars if they fired the prosecutor investigating his son's company." That is categorically false and it’s why CNN refused to air it. But Facebook ruled that ad was fine because it "did not violate Facebook's policies because ads from political candidates are ineligible for fact-checking," Judd Legum reported.

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Walking away from the truth in political ads represents a gift to Republicans, and specifically the Trump campaign, because purposefully spreading misinformation is what Republicans do. It's not what Democrats do. That's the painful double standard Democrats face when dealing with political opponents who have embraced authoritarian practices.

"Facebook is actively helping Trump spread lies and misinformation," Elizabeth Warren warned year. "Facebook already helped elect Donald Trump once. They might do it again—and profit off of it."

Now, billionaire Zuckerberg is hitting Twitter for taking a tiny step towards holding Trump accountable by gently fact-checking a Trump tweet. (Twitter needs to ban Trump outright.) "I just believe strongly that Facebook shouldn't be the arbiter of truth of everything that people say online. In general, private companies probably shouldn't be, especially these platform companies, shouldn't be in the position of doing that," Zuckerberg told Fox News, as he thoroughly abdicated the company's role in overseeing content.

Facebook advertisers operate under guidelines, which clearly state, "Facebook prohibits ads that include claims debunked by third-party fact checkers or, in certain circumstances, claims debunked by organizations with particular expertise."  What Zuckerberg and Facebook have done is essentially carved out a niche for Trump to lie with impunity.

What happened to Facebook, a company that once espoused an inclusive corporate culture of community and information sharing? Facebook got hammered into submission by bullying Republicans, who have regularly threatened to use the power of the federal government to limit the company. The GOP's phony claims of "liberal media bias" revolve around the utterly bogus claim that Facebook silences conservative voices.  The taunts work.

From the Washington Post, February 20:

Trump and other party leaders have pressured Facebook by making unproven claims of bias against conservatives amid rising signs of government action on the issue, including investigations by Congress and the Justice Department. Republicans also have leveraged Facebook’s fears of alienating conservative Americans to win concessions from a company whose most widely shared news content typically includes stories from Fox News and other right-leaning sources.

The backstory: In 2016, a dubious press report suggested that Facebook editors were "suppressing conservative news," which set off right-wing hysteria. In a frantic overreaction, Facebook eliminated human editors, or "news curators," from the news selection process and replaced them with an algorithm. That move unleashed a tidal wave of fake news stories on Facebook, which helped Trump get elected. (One "news" story, announcing that Pope Francis had endorsed Trump, was shared nearly 1 million times on Facebook.) Incredibly, Zuckerberg then hired a retired far-right Republican U.S. senator to investigate whether Facebook is guilty of conservative bias. He concluded the company was guilty, but provided only anecdotal evidence to support the claim.

All of this has been done in a useless effort to placate a right-wing beast that cannot be won over. Conservatives don't want fairness from Facebook, they want to wage a war on the media.

Zuckerberg's too cowardly to stand up to the GOP bullies. Or maybe he admires them.

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GOOD STUFF:

It’s a rare media moment when a journalist holds his/her colleague publicly accountable for incessant Trump cheerleading. But that’s what recently happened on CNBC, when Andrew Sorkin got into it with Joe Kernen over Trump’s failed pandemic response. It gets interesting at the 1:00 mark:

FUN STUFF — BECAUSE WE ALL NEED A BREAK

John Hiatt, "Tennessee Plates"

On Wednesday I highlighted a great new release from Lilly Hiatt and mentioned her dad, John. I thought I'd include one of his songs today for anyone who's curious and maybe hadn't heard him before.

As I mentioned, he's been an iconic artist for me for more than 30 years. (I last saw him two years ago performing with Lyle Lovett.) A gifted songwriter who loves to rock out with an irresistible twang, Hiatt captures the glorious crossroads between Nashville, Memphis and the wide open road, and fills it with memorable characters undertaking wonderfully questionable deeds.

On "Tennessee Plates" he tells of a caper to steal a couple of Elvis' Cadillac's.

She saw him singing once when she was seventeen
And ever since that day she's been living in between
I was never king of nothin' but this wild weekend
Anyway he wouldn't care, hell he gave them to his friends