Culture

Fake Love, Not News

A visitor at the Playboy Television stand during the MIPTV market in Cannes, France, April 2, 2012. (Eric Gaillard/Reuters)
Why do those who sneer at the idea of regulating pornography imagine that news can be regulated?

If you haven’t noticed, Silicon Valley is still taking the blame for the political setbacks suffered by Western liberalism in 2015 and 2016. Russia and the native prejudices of the deplorables get some of it as well. But they are acting according to their natures. The electoral success of Brexit and Donald Trump has been laid at Mark Zuckerberg’s feet. It was Zuck who had a responsibility to protect the world from Fake News, so we’re told.

Nicholas Thompson and Fred Vogelstein from Wired make the latest attempt to explain the aftermath of Trump’s election within Facebook. The report accomplishes a few things. We are assured that even though Mark Zuckerberg was nonchalant at first, many Facebook executives were nervous that they would be blamed for Trump’s election. (These people should get bonuses.) One source claims that Zuck had to be “flipped” on the issue. We are told that Barack Obama himself had a come-to-Jesus talk with Zuckerberg about fake news. We are also given a neat little bit of blame-shifting. Facebook’s fake-news problem in 2016 was the inadvertent result of trying to appease conservative critics of Facebook, who had gone after the site when they noticed the trending-stories section of it had a consistent anti-conservative bias. Or so they say. In response, Facebook is going to rewrite its code so that it highlights “trusted” news sources. In other words, it is going to amplify and appease the mainstream publications that have the ability to sustain a moral panic about Facebook and fake news.

Behind all of this are curious superstitions, that news media — and social media that spread it — should be pedagogical. And further, that an information diet of properly vetted Truth will lead people to vote for Blairite, Clintonite, and Merkelish candidates forever and ever Amen. And all we have to do is make sure that the big players in the economy of distracted attention — Facebook, Twitter — boost the true stories, not the fake news.

And so Facebook has done more appeasing. Obama had used soft diplomacy with Zuckerberg. The Europeans offered more legal threats. After it had done so much to wreck the news industry, Facebook hired a few “fact checkers.” I’m sure they are pleased to work in offices with functioning coffee makers and well-stocked fridges. Now Facebook will be better regulated for correctness by English-speaking and German-speaking liberals.

The curious faith in the ability to regulate the news to make it more edifying, and to produce electoral results more in line with the moral arc of the universe as drafted by the mainstream press, contrasts neatly with the reaction to a recent New York Times column by Ross Douthat about the deleterious effects of pornography, and the need to regulate it, even censor it.

In response, critics used their free hand to type back that regulating pornography was a fool’s errand. They’ve replied that Douthat’s claim that pornography plays some deleterious role in the sex education of young boys isn’t proved out yet by the facts. The alienation of the sexes reflected in lower marriage rates, in collapsing birth rates, and even in lower rates of teen sex apparently don’t strike anyone as significant or worrisome.

It’s a funny thing to hold these two premises together. In one domain of human life, the political, we’re expected to be entirely sober, civic, and lacking in prejudice. We’re supposed to avoid what is coarse and coarsening. And the code that programs our media experiences needs to reflect those same commitments. In the next open tab, judgments about coarseness and its effect on the rest of society are openly sneered at. The heart — or some other organ — wants what it wants. Our culture-makers seem to believe in a neatly cleaved human nature. In one realm, we can expect ourselves to act as angels, and do the disinterested thing. In another, perhaps to let off some steam, we must give the Devil his due.

But perhaps the defenders of porn should consider that the common purveyors and sharers of fake news across social media are also engaged in a form of self-abuse, combined with titillation, and fantasy life. They no more believe that Barack Obama is running guns to ISIS than that the surgically enhanced 30-year-old woman in a plaid skirt is a very bad Catholic-school girl. It’s just a reality they prefer to envision. One where they can gaze into a backlit screen, click around, and imagine they aren’t wasting their lives clicking around on a backlit screen.

Most Popular

Law & the Courts

The March for Life Is a March for Truth

Pro-lifers are marching today, as they do every year, to commemorate a great evil that was done in January 1973 and to express solidarity with its innocent victims. The Supreme Court’s decision in Roe v. Wade eliminated legal protections for unborn children in all 50 states, and did so without any ... Read More
Law & the Courts

The March for Life Is a March for Truth

Pro-lifers are marching today, as they do every year, to commemorate a great evil that was done in January 1973 and to express solidarity with its innocent victims. The Supreme Court’s decision in Roe v. Wade eliminated legal protections for unborn children in all 50 states, and did so without any ... Read More

A Nation of Barbers

It seems almost inevitable that long hair is unwelcome at Barbers Hill High School. There’s a touch of aptronymic poetry in Texas public-school dress-code disputes. When I was in school in the 1980s, at the height of the Satanism panic, the local school-district superintendent circulated a list of ... Read More

A Nation of Barbers

It seems almost inevitable that long hair is unwelcome at Barbers Hill High School. There’s a touch of aptronymic poetry in Texas public-school dress-code disputes. When I was in school in the 1980s, at the height of the Satanism panic, the local school-district superintendent circulated a list of ... Read More
Law & the Courts

Clarence Thomas Speaks

Those who know Justice Clarence Thomas say that any perception of him as dour or phlegmatic couldn't be more off-base. He's a charming, gracious, jovial man, full of bonhomie and easy with a laugh, or so I'm told by people who know him well. On summer breaks he likes to roam around the country in an RV and stay ... Read More
Law & the Courts

Clarence Thomas Speaks

Those who know Justice Clarence Thomas say that any perception of him as dour or phlegmatic couldn't be more off-base. He's a charming, gracious, jovial man, full of bonhomie and easy with a laugh, or so I'm told by people who know him well. On summer breaks he likes to roam around the country in an RV and stay ... Read More
U.S.

Nadler’s Folly

Jerry Nadler must have missed the day in law school where they teach you about persuasion. The House Democrat made a critical error early in the trial of President Trump. He didn’t just say that Republican senators, who voted to begin the proceedings without calling witnesses, were part of a cover-up. He said ... Read More
U.S.

Nadler’s Folly

Jerry Nadler must have missed the day in law school where they teach you about persuasion. The House Democrat made a critical error early in the trial of President Trump. He didn’t just say that Republican senators, who voted to begin the proceedings without calling witnesses, were part of a cover-up. He said ... Read More