Fact Checking and Freedom of Speech

I’m sure many (if not all) of you have seen the recent news regarding Facebook’s new push to fact check the articles that are posted on its social media pages.  Zuckerburg feels that Facebook is responsible for the dissemination for a great deal of fake news and also feels that they are responsible for attending to this activity.

While the cause may appear noble, attempting to weed out stories that are blatantly false and stirring hatred and mistrust, I can’t help but see the flaws in this plan.  For one, Facebook is a social media site, designed for people to express opinions, say what they want, and share stories with “friends.”  I don’t think that anyone could ever argue that the intent of Facebook at its origins was to spread truth, trust, and accurate news stories.  Truly, it has turned into a hodgepodge of political correctness, fruitless arguments, and the spreading of gossip, but what else could have been expected when humans are left to explore the internet with abandon.

My second argument is that Facebook is a form of free speech and has never had nor been given the right to police the internet.  There is far more false information out there than truthful, but I am not sure that Facebook is the best place to determine what is true and false.  For one, policing, when done by humans or computers, is not going to weed out all false information and could therefore reinforce those lies that are missed in the eyes of the readers.  For another, policing could very quickly turn into censorship, based on what kind of information Facebook wants shared.  We already know that Facebook targets audiences based on their interests, not only with friends’ posts but also news stories (https://www.facebook.com/facebookmedia/get-started/audience-optimization).  They also highlight their news feed with “trending topics” that are what people are talking about, not necessarily what is true.

I think that many people should be worried about Facebook, not because their intentions are bad, but because of what these intentions could turn into.  Facebook is not going to be responsible for eliminating all false information on the internet and I think it is a bit of a fruitless effort for them to be claiming to be trying so hard to do so.  With great power comes great responsibility, right?

I’m interested to hear other thoughts on this topic, though.  What do you do think about this subject? Are you a Facebook user? An avid fact checker?

See this NYT article for another opinion on this matter.

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