Facebook: A Rhetorical Punching Bag for Real Journalists

October 17, 2018

I got a kick out of “Facebook’s ‘Spam Purge’ Is Silencing Genuine Debate, Political Page Creators Say.” Years ago I had a teacher named George Harris, I believe. His favorite ploy was to craft “Have you stopped beating your wife?” questions. Nifty game. My response to him was to shift the assumption up a level and direct the question to his inner psychological processes; for example, “That’s interesting. Why do you ask?” He did not like my refusal to play his game. I think he longed for a car battery and, alligator clips, a bucket of water, and some rope. Fascinating idea, but he was a teacher and the methods of interrogators were beyond his reach.

The Guardian story reminded me of good old George. The psychological motivation is not difficult to discern. Facebook is an online information system which makes money by selling ads. Unlike the good old world of “real” journalism, Facebook apologizes and continues on its merry way.

The Facebook money machine had humble beginning in a dorm. The idea was to get information about individuals who might—a conditional idea—want to meet up in the student union and actually talk. From this noble idea has emerged a company which makes some ad starved newspapers green with envy.

The response is to point out that Facebook does not do a good job of balancing information for its users. Of course, when Facebook makes a decision, that decision is going to annoy some of the two billion Facebookers. Even better is that if Facebook does nothing, the company has abrogated its moral responsibility.

News flash: This is a company invented in a dorm and has not outgrown its original DNA.

I learned in the write up:

As a private entity, Facebook can enforce its terms however it sees fit, says the ACLU attorney Vera Eidelman. But this can have serious free speech consequences, especially if the social network is selectively enforcing its terms based on the content of the pages. “Drawing the line between ‘real’ and ‘inauthentic’ views is a difficult enterprise that could put everything from important political parody to genuine but outlandish views on the chopping block,” says Eidelman. “It could also chill individuals who only feel safe speaking out anonymously or pseudonymously.”

I can hear the snorts of laughter in my mind’s reconstruction of several real British newspaper professionals talking about the spike on which Facebook finds itself impaled.

Jolly good I say.

The write up invokes pathos, annoyance, and shock. These are useful rhetorical tricks, particularly when presented by individuals who have been injured in service to their country.

And the coup de grace:

Facebook did not respond to requests for comment.

Well done, old chap. Indeed. Now about throttling your children and that ad revenue, you yob?

Stephen E Arnold, October 17, 2018


Comments are closed.

  • Archives

  • Recent Posts

  • Meta