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  • Last modified 274 days ago (Jan. 6, 2022)

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Pluck you, Twitter
and the Facebook you rode in on

Don’t count us among those chirping about Twitter plucking the feathers of congresswoman Marjorie Taylor Green.

As with most Twitter accounts, we rarely would read — much less believe — hers. We don’t willingly subject ourselves to baseless rants of dangerously anti-science conspirators. Banning her means fewer threats to our nation’s physical and financial health. She’ll be less able to scare people into avoiding reasonable and necessary COVID-19 precautions.

The pandemic that grips our nation may not be as deadly as it was, but anti-vaxxer, anti-science, anti-thinking people who wrap themselves in flags while failing to do their patriotic duty to stem its spread continue to exact a tremendous toll.

Although many behave as if COVID were in the past, our pandemic actually is worse than ever. Our nation, our state, and especially our county are seeing record numbers of new cases, easily surpassing peaks from a year ago.

Hospitals are becoming so crowded that people not just with COVID but also with other emergencies have to travel extra distances and put up with life-threatening conditions just so consumers of fake journalism like One America News Network and Epoch Times can act smug in their ignorance.

Like other good Republicans who refuse to have their party held hostage, we’re glad Twitter suspended Taylor Green’s account as it did with Donald J. Trump’s.

But we worry for their future. If social media companies continue to drop accounts that post falsehoods, there may be few accounts left.

Social media — or, as we call them, anti-social media — profit every time a user gets mad, lashes out, or fights back. You can almost hear cash registers going “cha-ching” with each outlandish claim, insult, or deceptive half-truth.

One reason they are able to get away with this is that social media, unlike traditional media, have no responsibility for the accuracy of what they convey.

Banning Trump and Taylor Green actually endangers that advantage. Social media long have argued that they exercise no control over what is posted, so they should have no responsibility for it. The more they police their postings, the more they have to stand behind the truth of whatever is posted.

That’s what traditional media like newspapers have to do. Opinions are allowed. Legally speaking, there’s no such thing as a true or false opinion. But when it comes to facts, some are true, some are false, and a lot are halfway in between.

Newspapers can be sued for conveying false facts, even if all they do is quote someone else as saying them. Social media companies cannot. It’s an unfair advantage they secured via massive contributions to politicians.

Whatever the medium, every news outlet occasionally makes a mistake. We certainly make our share. When we publish as many words every two or three weeks as might appear in a typical novel, odds are that at least a few of them are likely to be wrong. Even the Gutenberg Bible had typos in it.

We hate it when it happens. We spend a lot of time, money, and effort trying to prevent it. But eventually something will be wrong, and we dutifully will own up to it as soon as our error is discovered.

Anti-social media does none of this. It’s strange to think that a small newspaper in a small community can afford to hire at least three different people to read everything before it’s printed, but Facebook, Twitter, and other giants can’t afford to hire just one.

Or is it that they don’t want to? The more outlandish the error, the more people will post, and the more advertising the company will sell.

Call us Luddites, despite our having more readers online than in print. But we yearn for the days when people talked to other people instead of shouting at them.

In our increasingly diverse society, communication trends that anti-social media foster will lead to greater challenges than invasion by a foreign power.

Yet far too often, people in authority seem to embrace these technologies and insist on providing information only through them — partly, we think, because they crave the power of completely controlling every aspect of every message.

It’s time we all started logging off and becoming more civil, compassionate, and thinking human beings. Do that and we are better able to battle not only COVID but also the rancor that has prevented our society from achieving its best.

— ERIC MEYER

Last modified Jan. 6, 2022

 

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