A NEW GENERATION OF YELLOW JOURNALISM: New Media, Censorship, and the First Amendment Part II

Technology and society have changed since the days of yellow journalism. The readership of the New York World and the New York Journal did not extend much further than the New York City area. Any fake news they printed stayed within New York City limits. At present the internet and more specifically social networks allow news organizations to reach a much broader reader base. Most modern-day consumers turn to the internet for their news. Some go to trusted websites others turn to comedy shows, and some go to their social media news feeds. While competing for a reader’s money is fundamentally different from competing for clicks to a website the headlines still need to be attention grabbing to generate the number of views that web page advertisers want to see. This has led to headlines such as ‘Pope Francis Shocks World, Endorses Donald Trump for President’ and the briefly popular ‘The Amish Commit Their Vote to Donald Trump; Mathematically Guaranteeing Him A Presidential Victory’. These and other similarly false articles made their rounds on social media.

In addition to blatant content censorship, Facebook censors in another way. Facebook creates echo chambers. Like what the New York papers were doing in 19th century giving the reader what they like and what reflects their ideals. In the 19th century it was national pride and anti-Spanish, pro-Cuba sentiment. Today the content is specific to each user. Given this awesome power to guide users’ thoughts in a way that makes George Orwell’s 1984 seem like present day the public has demanded that Facebook do what government cannot. Shield them from the fake news that has begun to pollute the echo chambers of their news feeds, people have demanded that Facebook become the arbiters of truth lending more credence to news stories that appear in their news feed. In response to these public outcries for action Facebook has created a method for removing fake news detailed here.

However, the public’s demand for Facebook to further censor their news feed and Facebook’s, admittedly, limited capitulation flies in the face of the First of Amendment. The cure for fake news is not Big Brother sorting the false statements from the true statements for us; it is for ourselves and others to think critically about our sources and if we have reason to doubt and distrust what we have read. Then it is incumbent upon ourselves to speak truthfully to share the facts (not alternative facts) and allow others in turn to form their own opinions of our work. There is no reason to deny the purveyors of fake news a place in our news feed; some people may derive entertainment from reading the outlandish stories in much the same way many find The Onion (http://www.theonion.com/) to be an enjoyable read. The Onion itself is among most prolific purveyors of fake news. I know what I ask is not easy, but it may be necessary to allow the market place of ideas to thrive.

Sources:
A Time Line of Yellow Journalism http://fs2.american.edu/wjc/www/yellowjo/timeline.html
Alcott and Gentzkow: Social Media and Fake News in the 2016 Election Available at: https://web.stanford.edu/~gentzkow/research/fakenews.pdf
How A Prankster Convinced People The Amish Would Win Trump The Election https://www.buzzfeed.com/ishmaeldaro/paul-horner-amish-trump-vote-hoax?utm_term=.qigKA6mdz#.kmdgM9lVw
From Hate Speech To Fake News: The Content Crisis Facing Mark Zuckerberg http://www.npr.org/sections/alltechconsidered/2016/11/17/495827410/from-hate-speech-to-fake-news-the-content-crisis-facing-mark-zuckerberg
What Facebook Is Doing to Combat Fake News https://www.scientificamerican.com/article/pogue-what-facebook-is-doing-to-combat-fake-news/
Facebook Details Its New Plan To Combat Fake News Stories http://www.npr.org/sections/thetwo-way/2016/12/15/505728377/facebook-details-its-new-plan-to-combat-fake-news-stories

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