First off, I want to thank everyone at Facebook, especially Mr. Zuckerberg, for recognizing fake news is a limited problem and for acknowledging that voters cast their ballots based on real issues that matter to them. I am very encouraged by Facebook’s insistence upon free and open dialogue and debate, and strongly back your desire for this to continue.
Many in the conservative movement are skeptical of Facebook, viewing it as run primarily by liberals and are quick to pounce on any potential liberal bias. I try to push back against that, recognizing that while the majority of Facebook employees may be left-leaning, I think your company places freedom of speech above pushing liberal policies. I want to thank you for that.
I believe this “fake news” issue has suddenly come to the foreground for one main reason. For many years the same few media entities have largely controlled the media discourse in this country. This includes the major TV networks, the New York Times, the Washington Post, etc. They have decided what is newsworthy, what is worthy of discussion, and, ultimately, what is “true.”
During this election, the major networks and the major newspapers overwhelmingly decided to throw their entire book at Trump. For various reasons, they overwhelmingly decided Trump was a dangerous and unwelcome presidential candidate and would prefer to see Hillary Clinton as president.
On Nov. 8, however, the unthinkable happened and Trump was elected. At that moment, traditional news organizations recognized they have lost an incredible amount of power and influence over the American people.
There are a few reasons for this shift in power. The biggest reason for this is self-inflicted. They have marginalized an entire swath of the American public as bigots and racists rather than try to understand what they care about. These Americans aren’t ignorant. They recognize when they are being looked down upon and have looked for alternatives. They also recognize an overt politicization of supposedly unbiased news sources. They don’t trust the traditional news media anymore because they believe they have been lied to and manipulated.
The other reason this has happened is because of the incredible power that Facebook gives to individuals to create and find media alternatives. That is what Liftable Media has done with our properties at Western Journalism, Conservative Tribune, and Liftable.com. We started from nothing, boot strapped our entire business, and are now reaching 40 million Americans each month with our news and other content. We wouldn’t have been able to do that without Facebook, so thank you for what you have created, for us as a company, but more importantly for our readers.
The traditional news outlets finally realized what was happening on Nov 8. They recognized there is an entire media ecosystem outside of their control. They have two possible responses to this.
First, they could rethink the corner that they have painted themselves into, and begin to reach out to the millions of readers who disagree with their policy priorities. They could take this moment to try to understand why millions of people no longer want to read their content and take some time try to understand them. They could hire more conservatives in their editorial boards who could help guide them back to a fair and trustworthy place. They could work to regain trust.
Or, they could stay the course, and lash out at the platforms that have made the exodus of their audiences possible. They could bury their heads in the sand, stay in denial, and fight to use their still considerable remaining power, influence and money to destroy the disruptive innovators taking their place.
Unfortunately, I think the majority of these traditional news sources are taking the second route. They want that control back. That control equals both power and money.
I believe this “fake news” controversy that has been on the lips of most in the powerful media elite in the last two weeks is the first volley in that attack. Much of this pressure is coming down on you at Facebook.
As I said, there are real examples of fake news stories. There are real examples of people completely fabricating stories for monetary gain. These people have no long term goals besides making money off of unfortunate and unsuspecting people. We here at Western Journalism and Conservative Tribune are enraged when we see people doing this to our audience. This is wrong and I strongly support measures that help your users recognize when this is happening.
The real thrust of this attack, however, won’t stop with these egregious examples of fake news. The people creating these fake stories aren’t the true threat to the traditional media power structure right now. The fakers are in it for the short term and most will quickly recognize a scam and won’t be fooled twice. Watch as these “fake news” stories start to attack large new media companies that make mistakes (forgetting that most newspapers issue corrections almost daily.) These attacks will start to refer to “fringe” news organizations and will start referencing journalistic mistakes rather than outright wholesale fraudulent stories. The attack won’t stop with stories about the pope endorsing Donald Trump. They will attack limited cases to try to discredit entire news organizations, and ultimately, pressure you at Facebook to clamp down on entire websites and Facebook pages that threaten their power.
So, I’d like to respectfully give my advice in the midst of this controversy. I encourage you to stand strong against intimidation and pressure. Maintain focus on your user — every one of them. Remember that many of these users have utterly rejected the traditional mainstream sources for their journalistic malpractice, manipulation, and subtle (or not so subtle) politicization of news. Recognize what this attack is: a protectionist assault on competition instead of working to win back readers legitimately. Be wary of handing over this power of what is true or false to third-party “fact checkers” that are often just extensions of the traditional media. Many of these “fact checkers” are just as discredited with your users. Be wary of letting mobs of coordinated users silence stories that may not sync with their policy priorities.
You have done an incredible job of building a platform that has revolutionized the transfer of information from a top-down model to a horizontal model. Obviously this gives more power to individuals and takes away power from elites who own newspapers, run governments and have been the arbiters of truth for generations. They will fight back. We stand behind you and the platform you have built. There are always ways you can improve to let people recognize fraudulent stories, but don’t throw the baby out with the bathwater.
As for us at Liftable Media, we are totally committed to the truth. We’ve made mistakes before, but we are fully devoted to putting forth trustworthy news and information sources for millions of Americans. We will continue to improve, and continue to provide an excellent alternative to the traditional media sources that have abdicated their mainstream placement and opted to become hyper-partisan echo chambers of the liberal elite.
Patrick Brown is the Founder and CEO of Liftable Media, a digital media start up with more than 40 million unique visitors a month. Liftable Media’s mission is to drive positive cultural change through media.
The views expressed in this opinion article are solely those of their author and are not necessarily either shared or endorsed by the owners of this website.
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