Try as it might, politics are now a friend
Amid pressure from virtually all angles, the social media network has slowly been layering in regulations to check the dissemination of hateful and inaccurate content in posts and ads on its platforms. Facebook said this week that it will prohibit new political ads in the week before the U.S. presidential election and seek to flag candidates’ premature claims of victory.
Chief Executive Officer Mark Zuckerberg said the new measures are intended to combat the risk of civil unrest among a “nation so divided.” But at this point, any attempt by Facebook to depoliticize its platform is futile at best and potentially even harmful to users and its own bottom line. The social media app, which was founded on the relatively innocuous premise of students sharing flattering photos of themselves with one another, has evolved from personal to politicking.
For one thing, the majority of the nearly 1.8 billion users logging into its legacy Blue app every day certainly seem to specifically be there for or at least be willing participants in some amount of the political discourse. It is now virtually inescapable on its platforms, be it election news, views about Covid-19 or photos and fundraising toward social justice.
Meanwhile, attempts by Facebook to limit misinformation actually might be compounding the political divide. Adding a voting information banner to the top of American users’ feeds, for example, will help to spread the word about when and how to vote during the pandemic. But it also primes users to approach its app in a politically charged manner from the get go. Meanwhile, offering the ability to mute political ads could mean users see only those shared by friends, perpetuating an echo chamber effect, while adding warning labels to offending posts seems to serve as a sort of proof to those who allege their voices are being silenced.
At the heart of the issue is the blurring of the lines between what is politics and what is personal, as the average citizen in Facebook’s home country undoubtedly has become more political in an election year racked by pandemic and recession. Some now feel that a personal post without a political statement is in and of itself a political statement. That couldn’t have been Mr. Zuckerberg’s intent when he advocated for a public town square of free speech. And yet, with a business that Wall Street is predicting will generate nearly $80 billion in advertising revenue this year precisely by targeting its avid users, it is unlikely Facebook wants to tinker too much.
No matter the optics of the safeguards the company continues to implement across its platforms, the reality is that as America’s deep political divide persists, there will be no easy way to separate what is a picture and what is a position. The best warning label would be one that explains just that.
In a speech at Georgetown University, Mark Zuckerberg discussed the ways Facebook has tightened controls on who can run political ads while still preserving his commitment to freedom of speech. VIDEO: FACEBOOK / PHOTO: NICK WASS/ASSOCIATED PRESS (Originally Published October 17, 2019)
Write to Laura Forman at email@example.com
Mitch McConnell is the apex predator of U.S. politics – The Washington Post
“I like the evil ones better,” McConnell replied, with a thin smile.
No joke. At 78, after a half-century in politics, Addison Mitchell McConnell Jr. now stands at the precipice of what most Republicans only a generation or two ago would have said was impossible: conservative domination of the Supreme Court.
For McConnell, this is a personal triumph worthy of the history books. But history may record it differently. It seems probable that McConnell’s epitaph will note instead that no one since the Southern segregationists of the 1940s and 1950s did more to cripple the proper functioning of all three branches of government, not to mention faith in the very idea of one America.
Historian Rick Perlstein has long described this chapter in the American story as “Nixonland,” a jagged terrain of White racial fear and populist resentment of the federal authority that began in the mid-1960s. But while GOP presidents from Richard Nixon to Donald Trump have tilled that soil when it suited their purposes, McConnell has been, over the years, its most constant gardener, mixing arcane, cynically hypocritical legislative procedure and judicial appointments to turn emotion into lasting policy.
He has jammed hundreds of conservative judges onto the federal bench, making it younger, Whiter and more male — and far more partisan — in the process. In concert with the Federalist Society, McConnell is transforming the federal judiciary from sometimes-defenders of the poor, immigrants and people of color into the Praetorian Guard of corporations, the wealthy, and those whose cultural and racial privileges make them, at best, oblivious to their collective responsibility to all Americans. At the same time, McConnell is standing in the schoolhouse door of dozens if not hundreds of pieces of needed legislation, rendering the “world’s greatest deliberative body” an empty pantomime of itself.
And if he succeeds in forcing another pliable justice onto the Supreme Court, he may prove responsible for undercutting whatever legitimacy a possibly disputed presidential election might have if, as many suspect, it must be settled by that court. One reason to move fast and give the court a 6-3 conservative majority? To take the relatively independent (and therefore unreliable) Chief Justice John G. Roberts Jr. out of the equation.
McConnell has been around so long people think they know him. But they don’t, and that is by design. When you are the apex predator of U.S. politics, you don’t really care what anyone thinks. In Kentucky, where I worked for six years as McConnell was beginning his rise, he is not so much loved as endured. People talk about him like the rainy Ohio River Valley weather: It’s a pain, but it waters the crops. He retains an iron grip on state politics, has been elected statewide six times and is likely to win a seventh term in November. Democrats are pouring millions into defeating him. It’s not a great bet.
McConnell, reduced to his essence, is a state party chairman on steroids. His eye for detail, and his feral sense of approaching threats, is total. In the summer of 1968, working for a U.S. Senate candidate that year, he traveled the state from Pikeville to Paducah with another young Republican, Jon Yarmuth, now the Democratic member of the U.S. House representing Louisville. After work, as they hunkered down at yet another rural motel, Yarmuth would suggest that they go out for a drink. Mitch would have none of it. “What he wanted to do was sit in the room,” Yarmuth recalled, “and read every report and statistic about the county.”
His granular focus on local matters derives in part from the fact that McConnell isn’t Kentucky-bred. He was born in North Alabama and spent his childhood there and in Georgia before moving to Louisville as a teen. He and his family lived in the city’s South End, where newcomers from the Deep South settled in a city whose moneyed ruling class saw itself as tweed-clad country cousins of the Eastern elite. McConnell absorbed the middle-class resentments of his neighborhood.
From boyhood on, he pursued every title he could find: high school student council president; college student president, law school bar association president, state president of the Ripon Society and so on, up the ziggurat of perches and entitlements, all the way to Senate majority leader.
These days he pitches himself to historians as the heir to the godfather of distributed power, James Madison. McConnell has a point, in one sense. The contrapuntal effect of the federal courts is valuable, even indispensable; a piece of Newtonian balance that the founders knew was important. But McConnell is not interested in balance: He is interested only in total dominance, and in a bulwark against change, whatever the cost to the country.
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