The antidote for fake news? Better journalism

Jeff Jarvis, the media watcher with whom I rarely agree, hits it squarely on the head today in his piece urging caution over an uprising against Facebook and its promotion of “fake news” sites (here’s a list of some of them).

Jarvis, a journalist, asks whether we really want Facebook, or anyone else, to start being a censor?

Facebook isn’t a media company, he argues. It’s a connection machine.

“We are concentrating on the wrong end of this,” he writes. “There will always be fake news, lies, and politicians and they will go together. It’s our job to make true news and nurture it.”

Let me get this out of the way first: There is fake news in mainstream media, too. The campaign surrogates on cable news spewed gallons of fakery and the networks hired them to do it. I will argue that The New York Times email story against Hillary Clinton was fake news — and certainly its use to feed false balance against each of Trump’s sins was faked. So was the AP story and tweet about her foundation. But you may take what I say with a grain of salt because I am a liberal and a Clinton partisan — just as Trump voters and the right take The Times, The Post, CNN, and the rest of MSM with a salt lick: as fake. So be careful before you decide that whatever anyone could call fake should be banned.

Beware then what you wish for Facebook to do with fake news. Do we really want to set up Facebook or Google as the censors of the world? Do we want them to decide what is real and fake, true and false? Do we want to imagine Mark Zuckerberg staying up all night because someone is wrong on the internet — err, on Facebook? Of course, we don’t. Zuckerberg doesn’t want that either.

Instead of complaining, journalists should be bringing “value to the conversations that now occur without us. Instead of mourning the creation of fake-news memes and putting the onus on Facebook to kill them (again: do we really want that?) we should be pouring out our own truth memes — with facts, fact-checking, context, explanation, education, reporting, watch-dogging: journalism, in short.”

And talking to people on blogs and social networks instead of just throwing content out there for the page views and expecting people to accept it. Good journalism in 2016 needs to be defended and explained in the sphere.

He didn’t say that part. I did.

Related: Here are all the fake ‘news’ sites to watch out for on Facebook (Daily Dot)

Facebook fake-news writer: ‘I think Donald Trump is in the White House because of me’ (Washington Post)

  • jon

    If we can have 3 strikes laws for internet piracy, why not 3 strikes laws for internet falsehoods?

  • Rob

    Bob C., I’m with you in regard to avoiding the impulse to censor fake news. But I have a huge amount of doubt as to how well a concerted effort to //explain and defend good journalism in the sphere// will fare in our post-truth world. I wish legitimate journalists the best of luck in this Sisyphusean endeavor.

    • BReynolds33

      Could not agree more. I am loathe to suggest censorship in anyway, but we have entered a place where the public doesn’t care about good journalism, they just want something they can link to that agrees with their previously held beliefs. The truth doesn’t matter.

      My suggestion? Facebook doesn’t censor them, but rather brands them with the big red A and shames the people who share the BS. They have the ability to label the content as coming from a right or left leaning site, or from sites that have been interdependently found to be peddling mostly false info.

      I say we try that.

    • Jack Ungerleider

      Maybe what we need is a “Rotten Tomatoes” for big news stories. The equivalent of the “Tomato Meter” would a selected group of publications spread across the spectrum and how they view a certain story. If most of the sources view it as reality it gets a high score. Maybe they add a second score from subset of sources that specialize in fact checking. Then you would have the public view where people could rate the story the way they rate movies. Then we’d have a way to compare how the public sees a story to how the “Tomato Meter” sees the story.

  • Most users will not be sophisticated enough to follow through on truth-checking FB stories. Heck, most don’t even read the stories! They just click “Like” and “Share” and go on to the next item. FB is a terrible way to get your news as is cable TV. One is better off with MPR, the Washington Post, the Strib, The Guardian, Minnpost, the NPR site…

  • Veronica

    This very, very good investigation of Facebook’s content review process should wake everyone up. Not only is it a terrible idea to expect Facebook to censor content, it’s unrealistic to expect that they can do so appropriately.

    I’m not going to lie: I am so upset with some specific journalists for not reporting things they needed to, and their failure to place some things in proper context.

  • MikeB


    There is a lot of good journalism out there, but not enough people want to read it or support it

  • LifebloodMN

    You’re right Bob, keep up the integrity.

  • Did you really need to lead with the caveat?