In My Own Words: Fake news, fake videos and fake history

By: RABBI RACHEL ESSERMAN, EXECUTIVE EDITOR

When a friend first went on Facebook about a decade ago, he had a question. His niece had posted, “Going to the movies tonight. So excited.” He was wondering why someone would post that. I told him that it was exactly what people did on Facebook: share details of their life with friends, even if they might not seem important to anyone else. For most people, Facebook was a simple and easy way to keep track of friends and family. Learning the small details of someone’s life is actually a good way to keep in touch with those who live far away.
A few years later, this same friend told me he blocked someone because the person posted so many political comments and links. It’s not that their politics were different because they agreed on most issues and even supported the same candidate. He just didn’t want to read through 20 political posts a day. Someone else I know once posted what would serve as a reply to this friend’s action: “I’m sorry if you think my politics are less interesting than your picture of dinner.”
None of this would really be a problem if Facebook hadn’t morphed into a place from which many people get their news. My Facebook friends frequently post links to articles about everything from the arts to politics. When this becomes dangerous is when these posts feature headlines, news and videos that are fake. In case you think this isn’t happening, note that Facebook recently announced that it would not delete Holocaust denial posts. It has also refused to remove the video of Nancy Pelosi that was doctored to make her look as if she was drunk. The issue has been called one of free speech since Facebook also allows people to post links to satirical articles from The New Yorker magazine or videos that make fun of President Donald Trump.
Facebook has morphed into something far beyond a simple social media site that allows you to share your daily life and photographs with friends. People’s emotions have been manipulated by pages that deliberately offer fake news – a great deal of which is sensationalist, meaning that people are more likely to share and/or repost the material. Even scarier is that Russian organizations used Facebook posts in an attempt to influence the last two U.S. elections. What’s particularly insidious is that this manipulation is so subtle most people are unaware they are being manipulated. If an ad appears in a newspaper or on TV, laws and restrictions apply as to what can be published. So far, Facebook does not have the same restrictions and that’s a real danger.
Facebook has its uses, particularly its ability to let us share information with a large number of people with one post. But we do need to consider ways to deal with posts that deliberately contain fake news, fake videos or fake history. Maybe posts should be required to have a “satire” or Photoshopped notice placed above them. At the moment, it seems unlikely that Facebook would agree to these additions. So, until our legislators find an answer to this problem, we need to do our own research before believing anything we see on Facebook is real news.