Rise of “Fake News” Compromises The Informed Electorate Necessary for Liberal Democracy:
Following David’s recent column considering the recent U.S. presidential election and factors influencing the outcome and noted the rise of “fake news” in the current cycle (see: http://www.investopedia.com/news/dont-blame-big-data-pollsters-failings-aapl-googl/), while social media companies eagerly state they support the free and unfettered exchange of ideas and information, they readily disavow that they are media companies in the sense of news organizations who carry the burden of meeting higher standards such as journalistic integrity and are subject to litigation under libel laws. However, recent surveys (e.g. Pew Center) indicate that close to 50% of respondents consider social media to be their primary information source. Consequently, social media has the audience draw, but none of the responsibilities that adhere to news organizations. Furthermore, as social media companies have a global audience, the challenge to supporting an informed electorate is becoming a global challenge to liberal democracies.
How Social Media Companies Respond Will Be Telling:
When a company such as Facebook (FB) has a director such as Peter Thiel who is known to fund litigation aimed at news organizations (e.g. Gawker), it is difficult to accept management statements that the company supports the free expression of ideas and opinions. Perhaps the most positive step for Facebook and other social media companies would be to form partnerships with established news organizations to ensure the veracity of information being communicated across their audiences. One factor for social media companies to consider is that corporate advertisers out of concern for brand reputation may decide to pull back from advertising on social media platforms until measures are put in place to set necessary thresholds to ensure veracity. With liberal democracy’s integrity at stake, truth is too valuable a commodity to be bought and sold.