SOMETHING tells us we’re only getting started in this fake-video business. Dispatches say new technology can make it seem like you’d said something that you’ve never said. Or even thought. But there you are, on screen, mouthing the words for all to hear and see. We don’t even want to know what’s next.
Nancy Pelosi found herself a victim of something like this a while back. A video made the rounds showing her slurring words, as if she were drunk at the time of the recording. Drunk or seriously ill. But somebody had altered the speed and sound to make her sound that way. It was a dirty trick. But it wont be the end of these things.
Nancy Pelosi then went after Face-book, and the company’s brass. Because the social media platform wouldn’t take down the altered video. Ms. Pelosi called out Mark Zuckerberg & Co. because “right now they are putting up something that they know is false. I think it’s wrong. They’re lying to the public.”
But, unusual as it might seem, Face-book still made the right decision, legally.
FACEBOOK is an electronic bulletin board. Anybody can post what they want. If the (wealthy) geeks running the shop begin to edit what appears there, then they become responsible for everything put there. A long time ago, at a newspaper far, far away, we had this argument between editors and lawyers. If you take the step to edit the comments on your online website, you become responsible. The attorneys’ simple, but not simplistic, message: You edit it, you are legally responsible for it, including libel. No editor wanted that extra burden with comments coming fast and furious from anywhere.
Facebook is keeping quiet about Nancy Pelosi’s particular case, but last month it released a statement to The Washington Post, saying in part: “We don’t have a policy that stipulates that the information you post on Facebook must be true.”
Facebook has more than 2.1 billion users. That is, monthly active users. That’s nearly 30 percent of the globe. As rich as the company is, it can’t afford to hire editors enough to fact-check all those users. It would be ruinous financially and maybe legally to even try.
At the risk of sounding self-serving, or even at the delight of sounding self-serving, if you turn to Facebook for facts, you deserve the facts you get. According to some of the things posted on Facebook, Joe Biden stole a kiss on the sly from a woman at a Brett Kavanaugh protest, Donald Trump called for the death penalty for suicide bombers, John McCain received a pardon from Richard Nixon before he could be tried for treason, Elizabeth Warren said women should be willing to be raped by Muslims to prove our tolerance for other religions, a photo after a Earth Day rally in California shows litter all over the park, actor Kurt Russell says Democrats would abolish many amendments to the Constitution and Henry “The Fonz” Winkler is dead.
None of that is true. The Earth Day photo was actually a picture taken after a football game in Georgia. John McCain came home a hero. And the Fonz is still with us, thank heavens.
Facebook doesn’t have editors as do, say, newspapers. The good Lord knows that we aren’t perfect, and corrections are a part of life among the inky wretch crowd. Newspapers have professional, educated, well-read and fair editors who go through stories written by professional, educated, well-read and fair reporters looking for not just errors but maybe even perceived slant.
The best reporters and editors we know—and we’re looking at a room full of them now—spend their entire careers without anybody on the opinion staff having a clue about their politics. We remember going to Bill Simmons, the long-time political editor at the Democrat-Gazette, about twice a week, asking about his thoughts on a bill at the Ledge or an effort by a politician. We never knew if the man was a liberal or conservative, Democrat or Republican. In fact, he would not even vote in a primary election because our readers might have the perception that he was partisan.
There are several other editors just like that in this newsroom. They would never “share” a meme with readers in their columns. With Facebook, it takes about three seconds.
Moral of the story: If you want news, sports, features and, yes, even some opinion, newspapers are your best bet, flawed as we sometimes are. With an unedited social media post, you just pays your money, gives up your privacy, and takes your chances.