How I Learned The Facts of Life: NOT from Facebook

Do you get your news stories from Facebook? If you do, why, why, why, why?

Yesterday in the New York Times, Charlie Warzel wrote that Mark Zuckerberg “is the most powerful unelected man in America” and that Facebook is too big for democracy.

It’s a terrific, powerful piece. It’s scary. It paints Facebook as a Earth-sized alien spaceship hovering over all of us, sucking up news media, fact-based journalism, into its maw, gnawing it together with fake news, lies and smears produced by Russia, maybe, and spitting it at us so that we are helpless to understand what’s happening.

So now I’m feeling stupid, because Chapter 6 in my book, How I Learned The Facts of Life, devotes precisely 750 words to “Can we get the facts of life from social media?” The short answer: no. And most of the chapter covers Twitter, not Facebook.

Good grief, I devote more words and pages in the book to an annotated list of reputable fact-checking organizations than I do to social media.

Thing is, Charlie Warzel is absolutely right in depicting Facebook as the monster that ate us. That is, ate some of us. A minority of us.

Until today, I’ve never seen or gotten a news story from Facebook. Twitter, yes — but that’s because real factual news media post news items on their Twitter accounts, with links to the full story.

So just after I read Charlie Warzel, as an experiment I typed “New York Times” in my Facebook search field.

What did I see? Not the top front page story in the digital edition of the Times, which was “How Trump Draws On Campaign Funds To Pay Legal Bills.” I had to scroll way down, past other less impactful stories to find that story.

In fact, I didn’t see any of the front page stories in yesterday’s Times — including the top hard-copy story, “A Furor Erupts Over President And War Dead” — on the immediate glimpse of the New York Times Facebook feed.

Here’s the intro note to the feed: “Welcome to The New York Times on Facebook – a hub for conversation about news and ideas. Like our page and connect with Times journalists and readers.”

Look, I don’t know what the Times has chosen to do with its Facebook feed, beyond what it says it’s doing. Which is not delivering the exemplary Times news. And the “conversations” on the Times Facebook feed are of Facebook-quality “conversations.” Sorry, but they are not of the digital edition readers’ comments quality, which is…well, here’s what I say in the book:

I commune on a daily basis with readers of the news who, like me, gather information, evaluate and distinguish fact from opinion, and having done that work, develop and express their own opinions.

I express my thoughts on my blog;lots of people regularly publish their opinions as letters to the editor. I’m an avid reader of these comments. Indeed, I’ve become a fan girl of a number of the writers.

I blame the New York Times, which has published as many as 7000 comments to an article, for consuming at least an hour of my day with their readers’ opinions of news articles and op-eds.

Sometimes I’ll read an article or editorial, form a loose opinion and then read the comments for further info and for opinions which are beautifully articulated and more deeply intelligent than mine.

Certain writers, prompted by an article, tell a personal story about how, say, government policies directly affect their own lives. Some of them relate experiences from their professions as physicians and nurses, religious leaders, teachers, lawyers.

Some link to related articles from other sources, or quote philosophers, politicians and poets.

Since the Times structures the comments feature so a reader can respond to others’ comments, the comments section has become an ongoing citizens’ forum, debating about society, politics, policies and reality throughout the U.S. and the world.

Reading the comments, I’m like a kid in a high school class listening to other kids who often know so much more than I do.

You’re not going to get that level of intelligent debate anywhere on Facebook.

Charlie Warzel isn’t wrong about Facebook. It’s a monopoly and it’s powerful. What he’s wrong about, though, is making the terrifying assumption that most people are sucked into the Facebook vortex, believe in conspiracies, are ignorant of reality — and vote accordingly.

I haven’t been, and from everything I’ve read, I am in the majority.

I’m not wrong about this:

Do not think you’re getting news from Facebook. You’re not. You’re not getting or joining in readers’ “conversations,” either. You’re getting your Facebook “friends” yammers.

Get your factual news, opinions and participatory public debate from a hard copy and/or  digital edition of a long-time, highly credible newspaper. There are a bunch of them left in this country. They are the pillars of a democratic society.

Today, also in the Times, Roger Cohen wrote an essay about having COVID. I wish Roger Cohen a complete recovery and thank him for providing an Albert Camus quote which is a perfect way to end my plea to those who think they’re getting factual news from Facebook:

“The most incorrigible vice being that of ignorance that fancies it knows everything and therefore claims for itself the right to kill.”




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