Pepsico recently showed that social media doesn’t just propagate fake news, but that vested interests can delete content entirely.
The company got a court to order Facebook to render invisible to users in India about 20,000 or more posts in which people said its Kurkure snack food was made out of plastic.
Pepsico’s lawyers argued the posts were fake news, which I don’t quite understand, considering an opinion isn’t fake or true, and nobody even presumed to report it as such. But the company was able to convince a judge.
It makes me wonder what else has disappeared from our reach because some powerful interest or platform algorithm decided that it didn’t serve their interests?
News reporting was never complete or necessarily fair; it, like history, was usually written by the powerful and victorious who owned the publishing platforms. Newspapers, magazines, radio and TV shows underreported or sometimes missed stories altogether because of various imperatives (political POVs, or living down to the adage if it bleeds, it leads), and then they all suffered from biases that were implicit (the New York Times is now trying to remedy the shocking absence of obits on women in its past pages).
Then the 20th century happened, and mass media evolved a conscience.
The mainstream media began to hold to principles of objectivity, as reporters and editors managed to make themselves into a profession, which helped, as they adopted rules of ethics and conduct, such as confirming sources as a test of truthfulness before running stories. We came to expect nothing less.
I know we’ve thrown all of that away because its aspirations were imperfectly realized, and adopted instead the hilarious notion that news…no, content…provided by anyone for any reason is somehow more authentic. Leave it to the crowd to filter out what doesn’t belong on our screens, or in our ear buds.
So now all news is fake because there’s no criteria by which we feel bound to judge it, other than whether or not we agree with it. Who needs old white men deciding what’s true or not if I can simply like something, or post a snippy comment?
Which brings me back to the Kurkure posts: The judge decided that Pepisco has the power to decide. Facebook users in India don’t see a blank space labelled “Censored by Pepsico.” The stuff is just gone.
What happens when another corporate interest doesn’t like how its being described, or a government? Here in the US, we’ve decided as a matter of government policy that climate change doesn’t merit much attention, so why couldn’t it ague that posts from environmentalists are fake, and should be silenced?
Could Exxon convince a judge that nasty posts about carbon emissions were damaging its stock value, and therefore “fake” and erasable?
Or how about Facebook, or any other social platform deciding that so-and-so posts violated usage filters, irrespective of actual content, and were deleted? It happens all the time, as does the filtering and highlighting of content intended to manipulate users’ opinions and decision making.
How did the most liberating tool for sharing information in the history of the planet become a tool for thought control?[This essay originally appeared at A Cross of Silicon]