By: Bryan Crabtree
We have a serious problem with online-harassment, fraud, distortion and lies by media outlets. And, many of our citizens have turned online dialogue and comment threads into pornography. Something has to be done.
For example, the most popular stories about the presidential election in 2016 were false: Hillary Clinton sold weapons to ISIS, The Pope endorsed Donald Trump, Ireland was accepting refugees fleeing America because Trump was elected and RuPaul, the drag queen, said he was groped by Trump. Millions of Americans share these stories believing they were true.
The stories shared and viewed by Americans from more reputable journalist organizations were less than fifty percent of the total news web-traffic essentially making fake news-stories the majority.
This past week, Google announced that it would ban websites who engage in fake news from their advertising display platform. This may be a strong incentive to focus on truth instead of polarizing, web ‘click-bait.’ Much of the revenue of these sites is a result of the Google ad network.
Twitter also announced that it was deleting accounts associated with the ‘alt-right’ for harassment and hate speech. As a culture, we must clearly define these phrases.
If a borrower misrepresents their income (on a mortgage representation) to double what it actually is, we call that mortgage fraud. It is punishable by fines and jail time. If millions of borrowers were allowed to apply for mortgages based upon fraudulent representations it would destabilize the entire banking industry. We saw the damages of this during the ‘Great Recession.’
The same level of fraud is occurring in the news business and on social media. Many sites are committing fraud by knowingly delivering false information as verified truth. This onslaught of lies is causing increasing instability in our relationships, culture and economy.
If news organizations are peddling tabulated or blatantly inaccurate information on a consistent basis, they should be treated as if though they are committing fraud.
Freedom of speech is important. It’s our most basic principal and right in America. However, when your free speech is malicious, fraudulent and dangerous, it is not ‘free-speech.’ It is libel and slander. We’re not allowed to yell ‘fire’ in a theater because doing so could result in panic and bodily injury.
Yelling ‘fire’ in the news is now causing civil unrest on our streets due to the resulting ignorance it is causing.
For the past two decades, I have been a talk radio host as well as a writer. My rule is simple: I do not write/say words on the Internet, in social media or radio that are forbidden by The Federal Communications Commission (FCC).
Social media is giving rise to indignant, uneducated troublemakers who lack the personal responsibility and acumen to be allowed unfettered access to ‘broadcast.’ In the past, broadcasting was reserved for an elite few who had ‘paid their dues’ to be allowed access to the airwaves. Today, we are all broadcasters if we use social media, podcasts and similar. Our airwaves are not limited to just television and radio any longer.
The FCC forbids the use of obscene, profane or indecent language on public airwaves. In addition, there are seven forbidden words. This long-standing standard has worked well to eliminate most profanity on public airwaves.
The same standard should apply to social media where tens-of-millions of Americans get news, engage in discussion and share ideas. On my radio show, we use a broadcast delay so that if one of our callers or guests uses profanity that is forbidden (or that we deem inappropriate) we can ‘dump’ the audio before our audience hears it. If we press ‘dump’ it removes the last eight seconds and skips back to our live discussion.
Social media companies should be using ‘dump’ button for certain words, disallowing posts that contain obscenities or harassment. Re: If a post or comment contains certain words or obscene phrases, it simply won’t post.
Let’s face it. Social media is the root of the visceral atmosphere destabilizing our nation. If the sites in comment threads and posts rejected certain words and phrases, it would reduce the visceral level of harassment that perpetuates some of the anger we see in our streets.
Many of our social media outlets began as a way to connect people. Now they have become as profane and toxic as pornography-websites.
I’m not suggesting we censor the media or our citizens. I’m simply suggesting that if news organizations are posting opinions, it should be clearly noted as ‘opinion.’ If news is not confirmed, there should be a disclaimer so that readers and viewers are aware the claim is not proven.
Comment threads and social media comments are today’s digital version of talk radio and it’s callers. They are a form of broadcasting (seen my thousands or millions) and should be held to those same standards. Prior to social media, if two people were standing in a public parking lot yelling profanities at each other, security would have been called. The ‘parking lot’ is now the living room on a home computer or smartphone.
It is very difficult to unify a nation when much of our visceral dialogue is rooted in lies, frauds and misinformation combined with angry Americans shouting profanities at their neighbors from a keyboard.
Nothing I’ve suggested here would censor/eliminate opinion, disagreement or conjecture. It would, however, put a burden on social media organizations and large news outlets to make certain they inform the audience as to the nature of the content and police the pornography of the commentators on their websites.
Government gets involved when others can’t resolve the problems they create. Let this be a warning of what’s to come if we don’t do better.