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OpEdNews Op Eds    H2'ed 11/3/19

Facebook and Twitter spread Trump's lies, so we must break them up

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From The Guardian

The social media giants have a monopoly on news but no interest in protecting democracy

Twitter and Facebook
Twitter and Facebook
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Mark Zuckerberg of Facebook says he'll run political ads even if they are false. Jack Dorsey of Twitter says he'll stop running political ads altogether.

Dorsey has the correct approach but the debate skirts the bigger question: Who is responsible for protecting democracy from big, dangerous lies?

Donald Trump lies like most people breathe. As he's been cornered, his lies have grown more vicious and dangerous. He conjures up conspiracies, spews hate and says established facts are lies and lies are truths.

This would be hard enough for a democracy to handle without Facebook sending Trump's unfiltered lies to the 45% of Americans for whom it is the main source of news. Twitter sends them to 66 million users every day.

A major characteristic of the internet goes by the fancy term "disinter-mediation." Put simply, it means sellers are linked directly to customers with no need for middlemen.

Amazon eliminates the need for retailers. Online investing eliminates the need for stock brokers. Travel agents and real estate brokers are obsolete. At a keystroke, consumers get all the information they need.

But democracy can't be disinter-mediated. We're not just buyers and sellers. We're citizens who need to know what's happening around us in order to exercise our right to self-government, and responsibility for it.

If a president and his enablers are peddling vicious and dangerous lies, we need reliable intermediaries that help us see them.

Inter-mediating between the powerful and the people was once mainly the job of publishers and journalists; hence the term "media."

This role was understood to be so critical to democracy that the constitution enshrined it in the first amendment, guaranteeing freedom of the press.

With that, freedom came public responsibility, to be a bulwark against powerful lies. The media haven't always lived up to it. We had yellow journalism in the 19th century and today endure shock radio, the National Enquirer and Fox News.

The reason 45% of Americans rely on Facebook for news and Trump's tweets reach 66 million is because these platforms are near monopolies, dominating the information marketplace. No TV network, cable giant or newspaper even comes close. Fox News' viewership rarely exceeds 3 million. The New York Times has 4.7 million subscribers.

 

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Robert Reich, former U.S. Secretary of Labor and Professor of Public Policy at the University of California at Berkeley, has a new film, "Inequality for All," to be released September 27. He blogs at www.robertreich.org.

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