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CSotD: Who Wrote the Book of Actual Malice?

I’ve had to sort through mountains of Facebook cartoons over the past 24 hours, but Dr. MacLeod was the only one that made me laugh, which is a good reason to give him the lead-off position today.

There were several that suggested people were doing more constructive and enhancing things, and I suppose that’s probably true for some people, but I suspect the real addicts either spent the day doomscrolling Twitter or checking back to see if Facebook was back up yet or, most likely, both.

 

And MacLeod is exaggerating, because, as RJ Matson points out, it’s not the only game in town, and, not the first choice of the underage crowd either, though Facebook-owned Instagram is #3 and the focus of much of the controversy.

And, as that linked story explains

Matson, of course, is addressing Zuck’s other headache, the revelations of profits-over-ethics that were the subject of a 60 Minutes story Sunday and congressional hearings on Tuesday.

I didn’t watch the entire hearing, but I did note that, while the kids were a larger intended focus, when Frances Haugen started talking about political manipulations of the algorithms, Sen. Richard Blumenthal invited her back for a second session to focus on that. We’ll get to that in a minute.

The focus on kids and the comparison of Facebook and Big Tobacco got reactions from both Democratic and Republican Senators — as it had here — and while I’m not naive enough to expect action, I’m not cynical enough to deny the possibility.

And, of course, if there is some kind of regulation, it will likely impact Tik Tok, Snapchat and others.

Meanwhile, the corporate defense that, because kids will lie about their age, we shouldn’t bother, is self-serving and fatuous. Both tobacco and alcohol are regulated by age, and, while that’s not a perfect system, it’s better than no system at all.

 

There is, admittedly, a line between cynicism and realism, and Martyn Turner manages to touch on a number of issues, including this one, without slipping into simplistic Will Rogers “They’re all crooks” territory.

It’s a target-rich week for political cartoonists, and he rakes in several topics to illustrate our reasons for frustration.

Meanwhile, over in New Yorkerland, Paul Noth sums up Facebook’s operating principle regarding young users and regarding its acquisition of viable competitors.

Which I will expand upon by noting that, if Facebook acquires that flute, it will also enhance its ability to attract hordes of rats, and not for the purpose of drowning them in the river.

 

And speaking of rats, Andy Marlette nailed the other half of the problem: It’s not just that Facebook serves up a steady menu of fear and division, but that people find it addictive.

It’s all well and good to tell people not to let Facebook draw them in, but it’s like preaching against alcohol and drugs: It only works with a certain subset of the population, it isn’t needed at all for another subset and it’s futile with a third subset.

So it’s necessary to sound the warning, but it’s not sufficient.

Still, if we can have “dram shop laws” that hold bartenders and social hosts liable for damage caused by intoxicated people they should have stopped serving, we can certainly put some kind of regulation on the way social media companies profit from addicted users.

Yes, tougher to construct, but that’s no reason to excuse Facebook for pumping up controversial rhetoric in the lead-up to the January 6 riots.

 

Granted, there’s a First Amendment issue here, and Clay Jones is correct in comparing the machinations of Facebook with those of Fox News.

Fox had been hoping the Supreme Court would take up an appeal by D. James Kennedy Ministries, which is seeking to sue the Southern Poverty Law Center for branding it a hate group over its attacks on gay rights, because both Gorsuch and Thomas have expressed doubt about the requirement under NYTimes v Sullivan that public figures must prove both falsity and “actual malice” to prevail.

Though if I were putting Tucker Carlson on the air night after night, I’d prefer a tightening, not loosening, of the standard that you need to prove both that he knows he’s lying and that he’s doing it on purpose.

Anyway, Jones couples his cartoon with a lovely essay about how Facebook purposefully gins up hate and division:

 

 

And if Jones’s accusations can be dismissed because he, himself, has been victimized by Facebook’s seemingly selective censorship, Pat Bagley (Cagle) notes that Haugen’s testimony and other investigations have branded conservative complaints about social media’s “cancel culture” to be lies.

Probably with actual malice.

And, while Mother Jones is, like Clay Jones, out front about having been damaged themselves, they lay the facts on the line with a degree of research and detail that may tell you more than you wanted to know about how Mark Zuckerberg has been jerking you around.

The writers don’t hide their personal stake in this — “Allow us to pause briefly while we scream out of the window” — but they make a solid case for Facebook manipulating its algorithms to give the hot stuff preference over the less controversial material, and how that plays out when their management shares Zuckerberg’s conservative values.

What it boiled down to was that a change to be more fair became a change to be more fair to Zuck’s political pals.

That’s not actual malice. It’s just good bidniss.

As noted above, Sen. Blumenthal indicated an interest in hearing more on that side of the topic from Frances Haugen, and there seemed to be support from others on the committee, though no formal vote was taken while I was watching.

Stay tuned.

 

Meanwhile, scratch that earworm:

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