There's a pernicious little idea floating about, that the Facebook news feed must be purged of all "fake" news stories. Endless groupuscules are calling for something to be done and insisting that if it isn't they'll thcweam and thcweam until they make themselves sick. Or something.
The problem with this is that we cannot determine "the truth", we can only determine whose truth:
His statement pointed up how much Facebook struggles to find the balance between its mission to be a free-expression utopia for its 1.8 billion users and its responsibility to protect them from all that is defamatory, dangerous (like terrorist propaganda) and untrue.
But more to the point, it appeared to buy into the notion that truth is relative at a time when that notion has to finally go away. Do you really need an outside arbiter to determine whether a video suggesting — without basis — that Hillary Clinton was involved in John F. Kennedy Jr.’s fatal plane crash in 1999 should be allowed to stand? Really?
Yes, of course such idiocy must be allowed to stand. Because that's what the freedom in freedom of speech means. Just as it means that idiots are allowed, must be allowed, to spout other gross untruths, such as that socialism is a really great economic system, Denis MacShane is wrongly maligned and grossly undervalued and that Mom's apple pie is great, no really, it is!
Further, what we really don't want to go back to is what is being lusted after:
It’s easier said than done. The combination of attacks seeking to delegitimize serious news organizations and a drop in overall trust in the news media has made many people wary of legitimate fact-checking. And, as my colleague John Herrman noted last weekend, politicized voices can easily drown honest journalism all too easily on social media.
There is growing talk of an ambitious journalistic collaboration to beat back the tide. Industry thinkers and leaders are coming together online to brainstorm solutions, as Jeff Jarvis, the City University of New York journalism professor, and Eli Pariser, the Upworthy co-founder, have done. (Check them out online.) And I’d say it’s high time that television news — with its still-huge audiences — gets into the act with more than just token gestures at fact-checking.
Because what America used to have was exactly that, a system in which the major media very carefully rinsed their pages of everything that wasn't Good Think. It wasn't a particularly vicious thing but it was very much there. The news media leans hugely Democratic (with, according to one story, the WSJ staff doing so even more than the norm) and what was just the received opinion of what was mainstream was what was actually mainstream to the highly educated left of centre liberals running said media.
We rather saw the remains of this in the recent election, it only being the newer alternative media that had even a hope of understanding Trump and his winning coalition.
One final point. What is a fact checked truth depends upon the beliefs of those doing the fact checking. Clearly Hillary didn't aid in killing JFK Jr, it was his own machismo which achieved that. But who thinks that pieces which argue that minimum wage rises kill jobs are going to pass through some media filter of fact checking? Because believe us when we say that if we had control of those filters then pieces which say that minimum wage rises do not kill jobs never would pass through it.
And that we would indeed do that means that no one should have this power. Simply on the entirely liberal grounds that you should never try to claim a power that you don't want your enemies to have. Pre-publication censorship - for that is what an insistence upon only the truth being published would be - will be a power abused by whoever has it. So, don't let anyone have it.