Mark Zuckerberg couldn't cut it in community journalism
I'm kinda mad at Mark Zuckerberg.
Not because he's worth something like $74 billion (according to my friends at Wikipedia) and not because, at 35, he's less than half my age. Those are, after all, good things. We should all be billionaires and younger than some of my underwear.
No, what is really sticking in my craw is the fact that, even though he has turned Facebook into such a ubiquitous social media platform that many people can't imagine a world without it, he refuses to take responsibility for the "news" content it delivers to people around the world.
I have to admit I was a little surprised to learn that people actually GET their news via Facebook. I always thought it was one of those waste-of-time high-tech diversions, like video games, YouTube or Candy Crush. But hey, live and learn, right?
This all became a big fat issue, of course, when it was learned that by allowing Russia and assorted other ne'er-do-wells to spread lies in their Facebook advertising and (I'm pretty sure) in their fake news offerings — the official stance of Facebook became, "Sorry, not our job to police world opinions" (and yes, that is me paraphrasing, so don't try to find that quote anywhere).
Now, this is where I need to point out, for those not aware of such things, that all over the United States of America the publishers of newspapers and other news outlets ARE INDEED responsible for the content they print, broadcast and otherwise cast to the winds.
The Lake Oswego Review, for example, has to stand behind all the words it publishes each week. That includes hare-brained conspiracy theories its readers might firmly believe and include in their letters to the editor, guest commentaries, quotes offered to reporters and even in the ads business people pay for with their own hard-earned money.
Same goes for the Woodburn Independent, the Gresham Outlook, the Tigard and Beaverton Times, the Portland Tribune, Willamette Week, The Oregonian, the New York Times and even the Sellwood Frickin' Bee!
And I can promise you that the Sellwood Bee does NOT have billions of dollars, thousands of super-smart, highly-paid young over-achievers working for them — and certainly not all of those sophisticated algorithms that Facebook uses to make ads for things you were just day-dreaming about the other day and are now popping up all over your FB timeline, like Mark Zuckerberg has.
No, even the tiniest weekly and monthly newspapers have to figure out a way to sniff out the lies, mistruths and complete B.S. their readers and advertisers would like to sneak into their news, editorial and advertising content — and block them from public view. And yes, that includes all those snarky comments at the end of online news reports.
And yes, if Russians were disguising themselves as "ordinary comrades living peacefully in big handsome house next to the beautiful Lake of Oswego," somebody would be expected to figure that out as well and keep it from confusing the paper's subscribers.
This is not an easy job. It is, in fact, extremely difficult. But it comes with the territory, folks. For the longest time, Community Newspapers and the Portland Tribune relied on one dedicated employee, my old friend Kevin Harden, to police all those nasty online comments and delete the ones considered too mean or too crazy to be in a family newspaper — and believe me, lots of them WERE deemed undeserving of being seen on our websites. I'm pretty sure this pressure eventually led Kevin to fix it so he could work entirely from home, where his closest acquaintance is an overweight cat.
Because I know a tiny bit about what it's like to operate a news media company, I'm now thoroughly convinced that Mark Zuckerberg needs to quit whining and commit himself and his gigantic social media empire to doing this very same job.
An old newspaper guy once told me, when we were discussing how easily a high school principal could pull a story from the public-funded school paper, "You realize, of course, freedom of the press belongs only to the person who owns a press." That freedom, like the rest of the ones Americans enjoy, is not free.
Ironically, I'm told the other big players in the social media universe (Google, Twitter, etc.) have vowed to stop running political ads (fictitious or otherwise) as an easy way around this fact-checking, opinion-policing dilemma — even though their CEOs do not have anywhere near the billions of dollars that seem to fly into the pockets of Mark Zuckerberg. It is, of course, a cop-out, but it's better than shrugging and pretending, like Mr. Facebook, that It's not their job.
The classic cliché used when discussing the freedom of expression that we possess in this country is how we all have the right to free speech, but it does not extend to crying "fire!" in a crowded theater. Mark Zuckerberg's response to that is, "Hey, I'm no fireman — how would I know if it's really a fire or not?"
Well, I'm telling you, Marky. It IS a fire. And your failure to deal with it is embarrassing. You are not helping one bit. Please stop your whimpering and take responsibility for the massive role you and your company play in the world.
Mikel Kelly is a retired newspaper guy living on Social Security and a measly 401(k) from his decades in community journalism. But he sleeps well, knowing he never knowingly ducked his responsibilities to society.
You count on us to stay informed and we depend on you to fund our efforts. Quality local journalism takes time and money. Please support us to protect the future of community journalism.