Juan Williams: Social media dodges blame for spreading hate
You hear a lie.
You call it out as a lie.
But the liar keeps lying. His lies make news.
And social media executives allow the lies to stay on their platforms, attracting eyeballs and advertisers. The lies keep spreading.
But when the leaders of social media companies are asked why they allow lies to spread, they hide behind claims of free speech for all.
It is enough to make you crazy.
But we’re not crazy.
What is crazy is the corrupt state of American political debate as we head into the home stretch of the 2020 presidential race.
This problem is not limited to spoken lies.
You say you saw Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) drunk at a press conference?
No, you didn’t.
You were one of three million people on Facebook who saw a doctored tape of a Pelosi press conference with her speech intentionally slowed to make her look like a drunk.
Oh, did you notice the Nazi symbol in a June Trump campaign advertisement attacking the “dangerous mobs of far-left groups…running through our streets and causing absolute mayhem?”
Facebook took that one down after the Anti-Defamation League complained that the upside-down red triangle is commonly used by “modern extremist groups and white supremacists in the United States.”
That is just a small taste of the social media universe of lies, hate speech and conspiracy theories now distorting American politics.
So, how do you tell Americans that easy access to social media, including videos, comes at the cost of being manipulated, being unable to know the truth from a lie?
How can Americans deal with a president willing to tweet, “When the looting starts, the shooting starts” — a threat of violence against people protesting the murder of a black man by police?
How are Americans to know what to think about a presidential tweet of a video in which a doctor echoes President Trump’s baseless claim that hydroxychloroquine is a cure for COVID-19? Did you know that the same doctor contends sex with demons and aliens is the root cause of many illnesses?
Supporters of the QAnon conspiracy theory, which spread on social media, regularly show up at Trump rallies to support him as a secret agent trying to bring down an international cabal of the powerful elite, who are pedophiles.
One of the conspiracy crowd brought a gun into a D.C. pizza parlor a few years back because he read on the internet that it was a front for a child sex trafficking ring run by Democrats. Another backer of the conspiracy theory, Marjorie Taylor Greene, is almost certain to be elected to Congress in November. Greene recently won the GOP primary in Georgia’s heavily Republican 14th district — proof of how these toxic beliefs are seeping into the mainstream.
A recent Frontline documentary on PBS — “The United States of Conspiracy” — focused on how Alex Jones developed a fan base by promoting conspiracy theories. For example, he said the September 11, 2001 attacks were an inside job by the U.S. government. As a presidential candidate, Trump appeared on his show and praised Jones’ “amazing” reputation.
But when Congressional Democrats call out this cesspool of lies, propaganda and intentional distortion, they are accused of engaging in “cancel culture,” or unfairly punishing Trump’s right to speak freely to his followers.
Congressional Republicans at a recent hearing with social media leaders said the real problem is that social media executives are “out to get conservatives — that’s not a hunch, that’s not a suspicion, that’s a fact,” in the words of Rep. Jim Jordan (R-Ohio).
No, it is absolutely not a fact.
In fact, the heads of the big social media companies have become whipping boys for the liars and hateful extremists who falsely claim to be victims of left-wing bias while continuing to use social media platforms to weaponize political misinformation.
Meanwhile, the high-tech executives are happy that the Trump administration takes a hands-off approach to breaking up their vast monopolies.
Earlier this month, the American Psychological Association said that by providing a platform for hateful speech, Facebook is increasing prejudice in the country and “knowingly harming the welfare of [its] consumers, employees and shareholders.”
And 20 state attorneys general wrote a letter to Mark Zuckerberg, the head of Facebook, calling on him to do more to stop his site’s role in accelerating the nationwide rise in hate crimes, harassment and promotion of conspiracy theories that lead to violence.
In June, several hundred Facebook employees protested that the company was giving Trump an open platform to spread political propaganda.
Big corporations, including Verizon and Disney, have joined a boycott of Facebook for its indifference to the reality that it is a springboard for hate speech.
Just this month, Facebook took down a post of a Trump video in which he falsely said children are “almost immune” to COVID-19.
Yet Congressional Republicans continue to play the grievance game, pretending to be victims of “cancel culture,” while refusing to deal with Trump’s lies.
They accept no responsibility for the damage being done to the idea of telling the truth, the basis on which a free people make informed decisions and vote for the best leaders.
Ten years ago, I wrote a book about the danger of politically correct speech: “Muzzled — the Assault on Honest Debate.”
Today there is a far greater threat to honest debate — the flood of lies and distortion on social media.
Juan Williams is an author, and a political analyst for Fox News Channel.