From Facebook to Factbook: It is tough to determine what values drive new information

Somewhere along the timeline between its inception and now, Facebook determined that the mundane answers to the question, “What’s on your mind?” were too mundane to hold the attention of its users so it allowed information vendors to post or promote news items into our news feeds. Concerns about user privacy, the sale of personal information to third-party vendors, and alleged manipulation of voter opinion by Russia-backed social media trolls now has Facebook asking itself the “tough” questions about how to mitigate the problem of false news.

Facebook has an 11-minute documentary, “Facing Facts”, out there where a bunch of its privacy staff (who, I opined on Twitter, look like they are all from Cowlick, Indiana) waxing philosophical about how they have to make the best efforts to discern false news from legitimate news for the protection of the platform’s users. It is up to the few to protect the members of the collective. These intrepid people are trust with the task of applying their value judgment to discern whether the expressions of the 2.1 billion value judgments from around the globe are appropriate.

I am no apostle of “diversity” and “inclusion.” Those concepts have not paid any political or social dividends for black people, but the irony cannot be overlooked here: mostly white people with a few Asians sprinkled in will determine whether rants on race by Dr Boyce Watkins or Dr Claud Anderson have any place in a person’s timeline. That would make me suspect as a user; that a bunch of white boys are telling me what is appropriate and of value socially and culturally.

I have not gotten from Facebook any indication that they understand the importance of values when crafting and disseminating political information. Benjamin Ginsberg, Theodore J. Lowi, and Margaret Weir in their text, We the People, define values as basic principles that shape a person’s opinions about political issues and events.  Basic principles that shape opinions flow from a number of sources including family, friends, civic organizations, the media, and simple personal observation. Values are personal to each Facebook user. Does Facebook want to be in the position of discriminating against each user’s perception of the world based on whether a user’s published or shared information that promotes the individual’s values is done at the cost of disparaging another point of view?

This is what political media is all about. In the ideal world debaters would give equal acknowledgment to the other side’s view, but in political theater where resources and time are tight, debaters do not have that luxury. Once you understand politics, you realize that you can’t put a third-party value judgment on information exchanged by opposing parties. Facebook has to start assuming that all political information exchanged by users is designed to move opinion, sometimes into places you don’t think opinion should go.

If Facebook is afraid to play the pure information exchange platform game, then it has two options. First, it can go from Facebook to Factbook, providing its 2.2 billion users a platform where they come and find objective, unbiased data.

The second option is that Facebook can choose a political side. It can become the Fox News or the MSNBC of social networks, being a platform for partisan dribble.

The individualist, of course, should mind remain neutral on the political question and avoid feeding the State which thrives on factious debate.

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