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Can Mark Zuckerberg Be Trusted to Take Politics Out of Facebook? – Vanity Fair

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Zuckerberg claims he wants to fix the political polarization Facebook helped bring about. But that may go against his own bottom line. 

Mark Zuckerberg long allowed misinformation, hate speech, and conspiracy theories to fester on Facebook, framing his critics’ calls for stronger action as a threat to free speech, and never quite mentioning that the toxic content endemic to Facebook is good for his bottom line. “I believe that people should be able to see for themselves what politicians that they may or may not vote for are saying,” Zuckerberg said in a Capitol Hill hearing in late 2019, “and judge their character for themselves.”

But, as everything that’s transpired since has made obvious if it wasn’t already, there’s a societal cost of that hands-off approach. And Facebook, like other social media companies, has been forced in recent months to take action. Over the past year, the social media giant has scrambled to stop the spread of fake news and conspiracies about the COVID-19 pandemic, implemented changes to its policies and algorithms to tackle harmful disinformation about the 2020 election and its incendiary aftermath, and even adopted a more aggressive approach to hate speech, lies, and extremism, including with its extraordinary decision, in the wake of this month’s attack on Capitol Hill, to indefinitely suspend Donald Trump. These measures have marked a shift from the laissez-faire approach Zuckerberg had long taken, yet they’ve tended to be too little, too late, and too temporary, treating the most glaring symptoms of the problem without addressing the underlying condition. Zuckerberg may have been able to curb some misinformation by banning political ads in the week leading up to the election, but the polarization and distrust his platform helped sow remains deeply embedded in American politics.

Maybe it’s a sudden surge of conscience, maybe it’s the threat of regulation, but Facebook will soon take its most significant step yet to reduce its harmful role in politics—by trying to retreat from that sphere altogether. Zuckerberg, whose company posted massive profits in 2020, announced on Wednesday that Facebook will aim to “reduce the amount of political content” on the platform and will no longer recommend civic and political groups—a practice that has helped draw users into partisan echo chambers. Political discussions will still be allowed, Zuckerberg said, but the company’s “theme” for 2021 is to be a “force for bringing people closer together.”

“We need to make sure that the communities people connect with are healthy and positive,” he wrote in a Facebook post after an earnings call.

Zuckerberg cited community feedback indicating that “people don’t want politics and fighting to take over their experience on our services” as a motivation for the coming changes, but it’s likely that pressure from Washington has been as much, if not more, of an incentive. Democratic Representatives Anna Eshoo and Tom Malinowski last week blasted Zuckerberg and other tech leaders for “polluting the minds of the American people” and called for social media companies to “fundamentally rethink algorithmic systems that are at odds with democracy” in the wake of the January 6 Capitol riot. “We recognize the recent steps Facebook has taken to crack down on harmful accounts such as those related to QAnon, by removing specific posts that incite violence and banning specific users,” the lawmakers wrote to Zuckerberg. “But content moderation on a service with more than 2.7 billion monthly users is a whack-a-mole answer to a systemic problem, one that is rooted in the very design of Facebook.”

Zuckerberg’s announcement Wednesday would seem to indicate he’s open to taking such action, but there’s good reason to be skeptical. While he said Facebook would commit itself to trying to “turn down the temperature and discourage divisive conversations,” he presented no real details as to how it will do so. And while it may be true that community feedback indicates users want a nicer Facebook, the company’s internal research suggests otherwise: when the platform recently tested algorithmic changes that reduced the visibility of “bad for the world” content, it found that user engagement went down with it. The so-called “nicer newsfeed” it temporarily fostered in America’s post-election powderkeg may have been better for society, but it likely wasn’t better for business. As long as harmful and divisive content contributes to Facebook’s growth, the company will have an incentive to take half-measures.

But perhaps the biggest obstacle to Facebook fixing what it helped break in American politics is that it may no longer be within the company’s means to do so. Zuckerberg long ignored, downplayed, and papered over the problems with his creation. Now, they’ve metastasized into something far larger and more difficult to control. Meaningful effort to address the systemic issues with social media is certainly welcome and long overdue. But taming the monster isn’t so easy. The changes are a “good step,” Malinowski wrote after Zuckerberg’s announcement Wednesday. “But we’ll see how it works in practice.”

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Politics Podcast: Who Will Win The GOP’s Senate Primary In Pennsylvania? – FiveThirtyEight

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FiveThirtyEight

 

Pennsylvania, North Carolina, Kentucky, Idaho and Oregon are holding primary elections on Tuesday. In this installment of the FiveThirtyEight Politics podcast, the crew discusses the the most anticipated contests — the Keystone State’s Republican Senate and gubernatorial races — and previews other races we’re watching, including the Republican gubernatorial primary in Idaho, where the lieutenant governor is challenging the sitting governor for the GOP nomination, and the Republican primary for North Carolina’s 11th Congressional District, where Rep. Madison Cawthorn is facing seven challengers from his own party after revelations of numerous scandals.

The team also looks at FiveThirtyEight’s latest collaboration with Ipsos, in which Americans are asked about the issues they care about the most in the run-up to the midterms. The first poll is all about inflation.

You can listen to the episode by clicking the “play” button in the audio player above or by downloading it in iTunes, the ESPN App or your favorite podcast platform. If you are new to podcasts, learn how to listen.

The FiveThirtyEight Politics podcast is recorded Mondays and Thursdays. Help new listeners discover the show by leaving us a rating and review on iTunes. Have a comment, question or suggestion for “good polling vs. bad polling”? Get in touch by email, on Twitter or in the comments.

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'Replacement' conspiracies driving gunmen creep into mainstream politics – CNN

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(CNN)Critics are drawing parallels between the pattern of racist gunmen citing fears of a conspiracy to “replace” Whites with rhetoric pushed on Fox and by some Republican politicians.

The mass shooting in Buffalo, New York, on Saturday was not the first such event in recent years in which a White gunman, who allegedly posted a White supremacist manifesto online, targeted the Black or immigrant community.
It’s not the second. Or the third.
Overtly racist lone gunmen motivated by such hate have, in recent years, targeted a Black church in South Carolina, a synagogue in Pittsburgh, and immigrants at a Walmart in El Paso. Read CNN’s report.
Some apparently drew inspiration from a shooting by a White man in New Zealand who targeted mosques, killing 51, and published his own manifesto about “The Great Replacement.”
Now, Buffalo.
Get the latest on:
  • The Buffalo shooting and the victims: 10 people were killed at a supermarket and authorities say it was hate crime. The gunman exchanged fire with and killed an armed security guard.
  • The shooter: The suspect is 18-year-old Payton Gendron, who traveled from another New York county hours away and livestreamed the attack on the social media platform Twitch.
“Replacement theory” motivation — According to a 180-page document posted online, attributed to Gendron, he was fixated on what’s known as “replacement theory” — the idea that Whites are being slowly and intentionally replaced by minorities and immigrants.
Variations on this basic idea — that Whites are being replaced by some sort of minority-driven conspiracy — have made their way into more than just the musings of gunmen.
The Fox and GOP version of replacement theory. Critics say it is dangerously close to xenophobic rhetoric finding its way into the mainstream of American politics.
Rep. Liz Cheney, a Wyoming Republican, pointed the finger squarely at her party’s leadership Monday morning, saying it has “enabled white nationalism, white supremacy, and anti-semitism. History has taught us that what begins with words ends in far worse. @GOP leaders must renounce and reject these views and those who hold them.”
And after the shooting in Buffalo, Rep. Adam Kinzinger, the Illinois Republican who has split with his party by criticizing former President Donald Trump, tried to make a connection between an old Facebook ad published by Rep. Elise Stefanik, a New York Republican, and replacement theory.
“Did you know: @EliseStefanik pushes white replacement theory? The #3 in the house GOP,” Kinzinger said on Twitter, linking to media coverage that the congresswoman’s Facebook ads received in 2021, including a critical editorial from a local newspaper.
The Facebook ads from her campaign last September suggested Democrats wanted to provide a pathway to citizenship for undocumented immigrants to create a permanent liberal majority in Washington.
CNN has reached out to Stefanik about Kinzinger’s comment.
Replacement pattern. That ad is part of a larger narrative.
Tucker Carlson, the Fox host, has pushed the idea that Democrats want to import new voters to dilute the votes of other Americans, presumably Whites like him.
Trump biographer Michael D’Antonio and City University of New York media studies professor James Cohen wrote a CNN opinion piece last year about how the concept of replacement theory has festered in US politics for decades, but has recently become easy to decode in segments on Carlson’s show and in remarks by lawmakers. Read more.
CNN’s Chris Cillizza has documented how the concept of replacement theory has been mentioned by lawmakers like GOP Rep. Scott Perry, who said this at a House Foreign Affairs Committee meeting in April of 2021:
“For many Americans, what seems to be happening or what they believe right now is happening is what appears to them is we’re replacing national-born American — native-born Americans to permanently transform the landscape of this very nation,” the Pennsylvania Republican said in reference to the number of people trying to enter the country at the United States’ southern border.
“Uncomfortably” close. This is not to say Perry’s comment, Carlson’s broadcasts or Stefanik’s ad are the same as what’s represented in the writings, allegedly from Gendron or other gunmen. They’re not. But it is also impossible to deny certain parallels in the language.
“This tension, this frustration, this fear sits not that far from our mainstream politics,” journalist Wesley Lowery said on CNN’s Inside Politics Sunday.
“One thing is unquestionably true,” he added. “Very often the rhetoric in our politics sits uncomfortably close to the rhetoric that these kind of terrorists espouse.”
Pledges to fight racism. But how? President Joe Biden, who is headed to Buffalo on Tuesday, pledged to fight racism.
“Any act of domestic terrorism, including an act perpetrated in the name of a repugnant white nationalist ideology, is antithetical to everything we stand for in America,” he said in a statement on Saturday. “Hate must have no safe harbor. We must do everything in our power to end hate-fueled domestic terrorism.”
Race is enmeshed in US politics. Political rhetoric often feeds replacement fears by highlighting racial divides that are enmeshed in American life and politics.
The issue of immigration will loom over this fall’s midterm elections as Biden struggles with how to end Trump-era immigration policy that has kept US borders largely closed.
The related issues of voting rights and election security often pit GOP-led states like Georgia, Texas and Florida against big cities with their large minority populations.
Seeking accountability from social media companies. Democratic politicians like New York Gov. Kathy Hochul and House Speaker Nancy Pelosi argued Sunday that social media companies should bear some responsibility.
“This spreads like a virus,” Hochul told CNN’s Dana Bash on “State of the Union.” She said CEOs of social media companies must look a their policies and do more to take racist content down.
“They have to be able to identify when information like this — the second it hits the platform, it needs to be taken down, because this is spreading like wildfire.”
Elon Musk, the CEO of Tesla who has been in the process of buying Twitter, has said he would go in the opposite direction. He’s a self-described free speech absolutist and would allow more, not less, speech online.
Buffalo and gun laws. The gun control debate has shown us that even tragic shooting after tragic shooting will lead to very little concrete action so long as a minority of senators, locked together, can stop any legislation
New York already has some of the strictest gun laws in the country and Hochul said she would look to close loopholes in state law that she said allowed magazines like the one apparently used in Buffalo across state lines.
Separately, Bash asked Pelosi if Democrats should place higher priority on passing gun safety measures like a stricter background check proposal passed by the House that was stalled in the Senate. Pelosi argued the math makes passing such bills a challenge.
“The fact is the 60-vote majority in the Senate is an obstacle to doing any, many good things, unfortunately, and again, we are not going away until the job is done,” Pelosi said.

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Ukraine won the 2022 Eurovision because of politics – The Washington Post

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Even before this year’s Eurovision Song Contest, commentators claimed that if Ukraine took home the trophy, it would not be for the quality of its folk-rap entry, “Stefania.” Instead, it would be a sign of European support for Ukraine amid the Russian invasion.

The Eurovision Song Contest allows countries to enter songs — but also to vote for the songs entered by other countries (each country nominates a jury of representatives to vote on its behalf). Several country representatives didn’t exactly try to hide their sympathy for the Ukrainian cause. When Poland’s representatives were asked for their jury vote, they mentioned “artistic creativity” — but also the bravery of Ukrainian fighters.

And it’s true: Ukraine’s victory on Saturday was political. This doesn’t make it unusual. Eurovision has always been about politics, even if the European Broadcasting Union (the organization that runs Eurovision) sometimes claims the opposite.

Past Eurovision songs have taken aim at Russia

In the past, Russia’s neighbors have weaponized Eurovision songs to retaliate against Russian actions. In 2007, Ukraine submitted a song called “Dancing Lasha Tumbai.” In Ukrainian, the pronunciation sounds very much like “Russia Goodbye.” After Russia’s 2008 invasion of Georgia, that country tried the same trick with a song called “We Don’t Wanna Put In” — coincidentally pronounced in the song like “we don’t want a Putin.” It didn’t work; the entry was promptly disqualified. When Russia annexed Crimea in 2014, Ukraine’s entry was a song about the Soviet deportation of Crimean Tatars. The song, entitled “1944,” also won the contest.

An analysis of voting patterns demonstrates that Russia, too, has engaged in Eurovision politics. Since Russia first entered the contest in 1994, its entry has frequently finished in the top five. Is that due to the quality of its entrants? Maybe, but many watchers also have noted how Russia almost always collects “douze points” (12 points: the maximum) from Belarus and other allies. This year, Russia was banned from participating.

Not all of the politics is about Russia’s actions

So, would Eurovision be apolitical if Russia’s ban from the contest became permanent? Hardly. While many of the recent political scandals have involved Russia, it’s not the only country that sparks controversy.

Israel’s participation in Eurovision means that many Arab countries do not participate, even though Libya, Tunisia, Egypt and Jordan are all eligible. Morocco’s first and only appearance in the contest was in a year Israel did not participate. In 2005, Lebanon withdrew rather than broadcast the Israeli entry.

Nor have Western European nations avoided politics. 1974’s Eurovision might be best known for introducing the world to ABBA. The Portuguese entry was more politically consequential: It served as a signal for coup plotters to begin the overthrow of Portugal’s authoritarian regime. Nor was that all; Italy censored its own entry that year, for fear that listening to “Sì” too many times would influence voters to vote “sì” (yes) in a referendum the next month to make divorce legal.

Eurovision has been political from the start

None of this is entirely surprising. Eurovision — and the European Broadcasting Union — was founded in the aftermath of World War II. The aim was to promote European cooperation. If it gave European nations a way to compete without guns and bombs, that was all to the good. There are worse ways for nations to vie for supremacy than with song and dance.

Given these foundations, it is safe to say that “Stefania” is not undermining any proud vision of political neutrality in Eurovision. It is very likely that Ukraine did win because of the Russian invasion — but it will be neither the first nor the last time that Eurovision expresses politics through the medium of a song contest. The solidarity that other European countries have expressed with Ukraine, and their implicit condemnation of Russia’s invasion, is not out of keeping with the contest’s political beginnings.

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