Social media occupies such a central and confounding place in our modern lives. I feel simultaneously drawn and repulsed by these websites at all times.
Facebook started as a network only for those with valid university email addresses. (Ah, memories.) It has now expanded to literally the only way I am in contact with a loose network of friends, family, acquaintances, and people I wouldn't recognize if we passed one another on the street. To completely quit Facebook in 2019 is the digital equivalent of building a cabin in the woods and living off the grid. (Also, if you quit Facebook, you had better quit Instagram, too, since they own them, as well. Otherwise, it's an empty gesture.)
I find myself in the same awkward position with Twitter, a website I loathe. As a journalist, I feel there's no way to completely quit Twitter as it has become strangely essential to the profession. What quitting Facebook would do for my personal life, quitting Twitter would for my professional life.
In 2019, Facebook and Twitter are de facto public utilities, but fortunately for these companies (and unfortunately for everyone else) they are not regulated as such. They claim to be blameless platforms, not publishers. This allows them to reap the advertising rewards of the publishers they are impoverishing, but allows them a loophole to escape any responsibility for what anyone posts there.
This frustrating reality was brought into stark relief last week when a manipulated video of House Speaker Nancy Pelosi ricocheted around these networks.
“Today, the president of the United States re-tweeted a heavily edited video of Nancy Pelosi designed to show her stuttering and seemingly incoherent. It is deceptively edited,” said CNN's Anderson Cooper on Friday, May 24. “But another video, which is actually full-on manipulated, slowed down to make Pelosi appear not just incoherent, but perhaps ill or drunk. This fake video has been put on social media and seen by millions. We're not going to show either of the videos to you, because we don't want to amplify something that's false.”
Cooper then interviewed Monika Bickert, Facebook's vice president for global policy management. In a remarkable exchange, Bickert defended the company's handling of faked video, saying they were providing fact-checking, but not ultimately removing it. To YouTube's credit, they took the video down right away. Twitter hasn't even pretended to respond or take the video down. Which is true to form.
“We think it's important for people to make their own informed choice about what to believe,” she said.
I've been worried about the increasingly plausible risks which faked videos carry. Before this Pelosi video, my anxieties centered solely on their short-term believably and the very real political decisions which could be made prior to verification. I hadn't even considered the websites they were posted on wouldn't simply take them down once they had been determined to be less than genuine.
As the saying goes, if someone says it's raining and another person says it is dry, it is not your job to quote them both. It's your job to look out of the window and see which is the truth.
Facebook and Twitter need to take some responsibility for their passive acceptance of these lies, or else they should be regulated.