If the Founding Fathers were alive today, Facebook would be censoring them and extolling the virtues of The Crown under its new policy of prioritizing mainstream news media.
It would be pocketing hefty payments from King George III for suppressing distribution of patriotic pamphlets like “Common Sense” and “Rights of Man” – Thomas Paine’s historic attacks on hereditary power. Which is what the social media colossus now does for modern-day royals like Donald Trump and Hillary Clinton, while marginalizing the poor and faltering middle class.
The painful truth is that Facebook and many of its peers, which initially billed themselves as champions of citizen journalism, have become defenders of tyranny and corruption in their endless pursuit of profit growth. Their rules encourage the billionaire class to buy the public forum at the expense of the rest of us, just as they purchase our elected representatives.
So much for free speech and citizen journalism. They’re going the way of representative democracy.
When Facebook says it’s prioritizing “trusted, quality news” what it really means is that it’s going to favor articles by the big news organizations controlled by Wall Street. At the expense of everyone else.
That means beneficiaries of the status quo like the Sulzberger family, which controls the venerable New York Times; right-wing propagandist Rupert Murdoch, the Australian billionaire who controls Fox News; Amazon cofounder Jeff Bezos, the billionaire who controls The Washington Post; and financial information magnate Michael Bloomberg, the billionaire who controls Bloomberg News.
What do these Wall Street cheerleaders have in common?
They lambasted the class warfare concerns of the Occupy Wall Street movement in 2011-2012 after finding the credit scores of its participants wanting. The New York Times – the most progressive of the lot – infamously dismissed the populist movement as an “opportunity to air societal grievances as carnival.”
Impartial, they are not.
Know what else they have in common?
They’ve literally run thousands of my byline stories since 1990. The same stories that Facebook wants to block when I write them for nonprofit news organizations devoted to the poor and faltering middle class. Like The Cynical Times, Democracy Now!, The Nation’s TomDispatch, The Intercept, Truthout and Mother Jones.
Apparently, working class journalists like me can only be trusted to write the truth when we’re whoring ourselves out to the super rich. The moment we try to emulate Tommy Paine, by sharing painful truths with the masses, we’re instantly transformed into spammers.
Because the mainstream news media does not have much use for the poor and faltering middle class any more. It’s world view is increasingly limited to a left composed of wealthy limousine liberals and a right composed of wealthy conservatives.
The only victims and villains who matter now are those in the country club set. Case in point, the wealthy socialites championed by The #MeToo Movement.
We are invisible. Just like the Founding Fathers who rallied behind the revolutionary cry of “no taxation without representation.”
Our offshored jobs and foreclosed homes apparently are hard to see from the corridors of power in Manhattan, Hollywood, and Washington, D.C. Just as America was once so hard to see from the ivory towers of Windsor Castle.
Facebook’s new policy is meant to make us even more invisible. Justifying a corporate protection racket which elevates the “profits over people” crowd and marginalizes nonprofit news organizations that serve the masses.
What’s new and different?
Not much. Facebook is just seeking to legitimize its practice of monetizing free speech by camouflaging it in the guise of public service.
Sadly, Facebook is no longer in the business of public service. It’s in the business of maximizing corporate profits by any means necessary.
Fair or unfair. Moral or immoral.
When auctioning the truth to the highest bidder supports its profit growth targets, that’s what Facebook does.
Which is why news organizations have as much free press and free speech as they can afford to purchase on Facebook today, in the form of “boosts.” Those are the payments Facebook solicits to share posts with a larger audience.
The same is true for political propaganda.
Organizations of every type can pay Facebook to “boost” unwelcome political stories and advertisements onto people’s timelines. Which is how Trump “boosted” his way into The White House in 2016 via fake news. Facebook lifted its profits by helping him and Democratic candidate Hillary Clinton mislead voters, with no regard to the accuracy of their claims.
It’s not your imagination both candidates sucked and were more focused on buying public office than being worthy of public office. The painful truth is that the top vote-getter in November was “Did Not Participate in Rigged Election,” which accounted for 40 percent of the 231 million eligible voters. Trump received the votes of just 27 percent of them and Clinton received just 29 percent.
The first fascist president in U.S. history won the election in the electoral college. Not the popular vote.
News organizations which post such painful truths to multiple Facebook groups, without paying tribute to Facebook, are now habitually accused of spamming. The same thing happens when we share articles critical of President Trump in the growing number of anti-Trump groups on Facebook, with names like “Diapers for Donald” and “Trump Rabies.”
The goal of this repressive practice isn’t fairness. It’s not about policing spammers or protecting Facebook users. It’s about clearing the way for more corporate profit growth, by erecting a new Internet toll road between readers and truthful journalism.
A spammer is someone who tries to trick unwitting readers into viewing an advertisement by misrepresenting it as news. Or lures them into some kind of financial scam, like those once associated with fictional African royals claiming fictional inheritances.
We have never engaged in either form of trickery at The Cynical Times. We’re an anti-corruption publication devoted to the poor and faltering middle class. Our bread and butter is the telling of painful truths via news articles and clearly marked satire.
Our only crime is that we’re not very nice to treasonous political hookers in Washington, D.C. and the treasonous Wall Street billionaires they work for. And we don’t have to be in this country, which is neither Russia nor China. Yet.
If they can’t take the heat of public scrutiny they should never have gone into politics in the first place. Much less begun peddling the primitive tribal poison of identity politics and pay-to-play corruption, and the fiction that either party machine serves anyone but Wall Street.
Facebook’s improper application of the term “spam” to the handful of journalism holdouts who refuse to kiss rich ass or participate in its free press protection racket is a knowing lie. One which favors Wall Street propagandists, like the members of the Right Wing Noise Machine bankrolled by billionaire Robert Mercer and the infamous Koch Brothers.
The proper solution to fake news is for Facebook to stop “boosting” articles altogether and start hiring its own journalists and producing its own news articles. Which it would be solely responsible for.
That’s not going to happen though.
Because corporate accountability would end the free ride Facebook now enjoys by running stories written by others, without their permission.
Instead, Facebook simply ignores the U.S. Constitution and Bill of Rights when they get in the way of corporate profit growth. Trampling free speech, freedom of expression, the free press, and America’s laudable tradition of cutting any politician down to size who starts carrying themselves like royalty.
I can still remember the first time I heard about the right-wing Breitbart website back in 2008. I was in the habit of Googling “By Victor Epstein” back then to see how widely my work at The Associated Press was being distributed. Breitbart came up again and again.
The supremacist website possessed both an AP account and an insatiable appetite for any story in which Americans who were Black and Hispanic killed one another. Since my duties included covering crime in gritty Newark, N.J., I would up with a lot of pickups.
Breitbart would eventually post more than 300 of my byline stories, without ever realizing I was an unapologetic liberal of the most pinkish hue. The kind of person who proudly headlined its founder’s obituary with the words “Breitbart takes a Dirtnap” in 2012.
Many of the same AP stories that ran on Breitbart were also posted on Facebook without its permission, beside paid advertisements. The social media organization called the practice of posting other people’s work “citizen journalism.” Apparently the word “theft” was unavailable.
If any of those hijacked stories had turned out to be false, it would not be Facebook’s problem under the current system because they didn’t produce them. However, it does profit from tainted articles by placing paid ads beside them and soliciting payments to boost them.
Which is why Facebook is the real enabler and true beneficiary of fake news. The Napster of social media now also charges to distribute the same content it once stole. Apparently, personal integrity is not Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg’s strong suit. Neither is making a better world for future generations.
All he seems to understand is how to slap a price-tag on American values and transform them into the new revenue streams needed to sustain Facebook’s forever profit growth farce.
It’s also why this new fake crackdown is nothing of the sort. Instead, it’s pure class warfare by a social media organization which has become the de facto public forum of the English speaking world in recent years.
That global standing carries responsibilities, which should include serving as a vehicle for courageous articles exposing class warfare and the tyranny of The Predatory 1 Percent. As Facebook did during the Arab Spring before its initial public stock offering.
Bottom line, when Facebook acts altruistically it’s a powerful tool for freedom. When it acts solely to maximize profits it’s an equally powerful tool of tyranny.
That’s become an increasing problem since 2012, when Facebook became a publicly traded company with a stock ticker.
The social media colossus is now in the business of maximizing shareholder profit in the short-term. Not serving the greater good or adhering to the law of the land.
At least not in a nation like ours where crooked politicians are a dime a dozen and it’s cheaper to buy political protection than do the right thing.
Under this policy change, Facebook will continue to share stories from so-called mainstream news organizations which appear under my byline. With or without their permission. Or mine.
Just as it did when I broke stories about the mass drowning at St. Rita’s Nursing Home for Bloomberg in 2005, helped turn former Newark Mayor Cory Booker into a national figure for AP in 2008, and exposed misconduct at Wells Fargo for Gannett in 2014.
However, when I try to post links to the public service articles I voluntarily produce for my fellow Americans, via nonprofit news organizations that serve the greater good, I will continue to face systematic censorship. My stories will be mislabeled as “spam” and my posting privileges will be suspended for weeks at a time.
Facebook will simultaneously offer me the option of boosting the offending stories at a rate of 3 million readers for $50,000. It can do this because spam apparently stops being spam once Facebook gets paid enough to sneak it into your newsfeed.
Which is a nice way of saying they either know it isn’t really spam and/or will do anything for money.
This kind of knowing corporate misconduct is classic “profits over people” garbage and it’s not just happening to me. I’m not special. Facebook is doing this to crusading journalists around the world.
Facebook allows working-class journalists to be whores who sell ourselves to the highest bidder in the Predatory 1 Percent, but its censorship practices make it hard for us to inform the masses instead of misleading them. Especially at smaller, independent news organizations.
My personal experience suggests Facebook isn’t just selling boosts, it’s also selling outright censorship.
The suppression of the truth is already underway. Seems like I haven’t gone more than a week or two without having my Facebook posting privileges suspended the past year.
What am I posting?
My own byline stories. For free. The very stories Facebook once pirated so shamelessly.
Stories that are critical of both political machines are typically censored the most, like the clearly marked satirical article “Dotard and Duchess Named Ugly Americans of the Year.” Facebook seems to have decided this farcical story is too complex for commoners like you and me to evaluate ourselves.
Lest we begin to question Wall Street’s transformation of the home of the free and the land of the brave into a company town writ large.
We receive no explanation or notification from Facebook for this kind of discreet censorship and often don’t realize it’s occurring until we check the number of readers viewing the targeted article.
Presumably because admitting it was engaged in such police state garbage would be bad for Facebook’s public reputation. However, instead of refraining from it the social media colossus is simply attempting to conceal it.
We typically get hundreds or thousands of views for each article that runs on The Cynical Times Facebook Group. The most popular get hundreds of thousands of views, while the least range between 20 and 30.
Which makes us kinda like Forrest Gump at the end of his first day as a shrimp’in boat captain, when he returned to port with five shrimp. A couple more and we could’ve had ourselves a shrimp cocktail.
But seriously, this kind of outrageous corporate overreach is akin to Michael Bloomberg describing The New York Police Department as his own “private army” in 2012. It’s the corporate equivalent of hanging a sign around your neck which says “I’ve grown too powerful and need to be cut down to size – right friggin now.”
This behavior also suggests Facebook has created another whorish revenue stream for itself by selling reputation protection to the same monied interests who purchase its boosts. By suppressing anything they dislike.
Case in point, a seamy video longtime Trump adviser Roger Stone posted to YouTube about his friendship with deceased porn star Randy Potes, who performed under the screen name “Cal Jammer.” It’s called “Stone on Cal Jammer.”
Stone, who has been called the “boastful black prince of Republican sleaze,” seems to share Trump’s fascination with his own peepee and the porn industry which caters to it. The 65-year-old political lobbyist comes across in the clip as another aging Frat Boy who doesn’t think the normal rules apply to him.
We posted a link to the video, because we thought it provided some insight into our lecherous president and his equally lecherous friends, who are so fond of praying publicly with televangelists.
Once again, Facebook discreetly censored the link on The Cynical Times Facebook Group to prevent the people who follow us there from seeing it. It appears to be visible only to our staff.
When Facebook is willing to discreetly prevent the public from hearing Stone wistfully recall Jammer’s “legendary” work in Anal Intruder Four you really have to wonder what else is being suppressed. And why.
We reposted both the “Dotard and Duchess” and the link to Stone’s personal tribute to Jammer three times over the next month just to make sure they really were being censored by Facebook. They never got more than five views, even when they were sandwiched between other posts pulling down hundreds.
The same apparent suppression occurred when we tried to share a comical meme to The Cynical Times Facebook Group, denigrating President Trump’s obsession with his predecessor (below left). This kind of juvenile free speech is protected by the Constitution and there are literally millions of harsher memes on Facebook.
However, the system was clearly programmed to balk at posting this one meme, solely because it depicts Trump in an unflattering light.
It repeatedly failed to post without explanation.
Explanations costs money – they require people – and Facebook cannot be bothered to do anything but rake it in by any means necessary. Hardly the kind of mindset required by an entity responsible for the global social media trust.
We can only guess at the real reason the meme was blocked. The most likely is that a Trump loyalist had already singled it out for selective censorship before we saw it and tried to share it to our group’s spicy newsfeed.
Facebook seems to have a lower standard for the comments in a discussion thread than the posts that begin them.
The meme is mildly offensive, but pales in comparison to some of the anti-Obama memes which were habitually posted by Conservatives prior to 2016. It doesn’t contain nudity, group bias or foul language and is in complete compliance with Facebook’s stated content standards.
The fact that it was still suppressed is a big deal. One which raises the same kind of Star Chamber questions as the targeted assassination program embraced by former Presidents Barack Obama and George W. Bush.
Questions like who picks the targets, what’s their criteria, and how does the process gibe with the ideas that we’re a nation of laws and a democracy in which all Americans are “created equal?”
In the case of Facebook’s censorship the answer seems to be it doesn’t. Because the only criteria is wealth. Those with money get a First Class voice in the public forum and First Class reputation protection, while the rest of us ride coach.
This is exactly the kind of elitist garbage Twitter appeared to pull with Rosie McGowan at the start of the #MeToo Movement, when they suspended her account for criticizing Harvey Weinstein. He’s the Hollywood mogul with the deep pockets, wandering hands, outsized sense of personal entitlement, and alarming lack of impulse control.
Facebook and Twitter appear to be selling a form of real-time reputation protection to the wealthy and powerful, which allows toxic elites to suppress painful truths. Being less accountable for their bad deeds makes them more equal than the rest of us.
Nothing could be more of a betrayal of the American ideal of leadership by example than the kind of entitled misconduct these revenue streams enable.
Selling reputation protection to big boosters like Trump doesn’t address the problem of fake news. Instead, it creates a financial threshold for the toxic elites who seek to peddle fake news and suppress painful truths.
These two forms of corporate misconduct basically make Facebook a full-fledged tool of societal control. One which takes the financial benefits of distributing news without the burdens of responsibility for that content and poses a clear and present threat to representative democracy, free speech, and equality for all.
Why does Facebook allow us to post stuff like this critical column?
Solely to camouflage its protection rackets.
In fact, this is the only story we have ever been able to distribute on Facebook with virtual impunity. That exception also supports the premise that there’s a problem with the highly profitable way Facebook is boosting and censoring. Because if the social media giant isn’t ashamed of its behavior, why doesn’t it apply the same standards to this critical story?
Why advance the public charade of free speech, like a parent scolding their children who answers the phone with a sweet “hello?”
If not because Facebook has been censoring and boosting stories to grow its annual profits to obscene heights. The social media trust grew its profits 58 percent to a record $26.9 billion in 2016 and is expected to post another record when it reports its earning for 2017 on Jan. 31. Facebook’s market capitalization is $539 billion.
Those kind of numbers carry a high price for both democracy and the human race, because they can only be attained by monetizing our online freedoms.
Small nonprofit news entities like The Cynical Times will face another class warfare attack in the near future with the impending demise of Net Neutrality. It’s going to create a new protection racket for telecom giants like Verizon, by allowing them to slow the speed consumers are able to connect with the websites they can’t shake down. Nonprofits like The Cynical Times, who put people ahead of profits, won’t be able to pay them an additional fee to speed things up.
What’s the solution?
Companies like Facebook need to make less and be more. As in more laudable, more honorable, more American, and more human.
Instead of continuing to facilitate the hijacking of copyrighted articles and photos, Facebook could just hire its own journalists, distribute their work, be legally accountable for it, pay them, and be done with the censorship charade.
After all, it’s pretty obvious right now that the social media colossus has no principles whatsoever besides doing whatever supports short-term profit growth. However heinous.
The larger solution is for the political hookers in DC to make like former President Teddy Roosevelt and break up the Facebook trust into smaller nonprofit companies. Thereby bringing an ignominious end to its mercenary ways
I wouldn’t hold my breath waiting on the political hookers in DC to do the right thing though, because they’re even more rapacious than their Wall Street patrons.
They’re far more likely to solicit another payday from Facebook for doing nothing than to advance the greater good.
We’re not called “Cynical Times” for nothing.
Victor Epstein is the editor-in-chief of The Cynical Times and a proud liberal from blue-collar roots. A journalism lifer with more than 20 years of experience in the mainstream news media, he has worked as a staff writer for Bloomberg News, a capital correspondent for Gannett, and an administrative correspondent for The Associated Press. He is also the proud holder of a Class-A CDL with double and triples, air brakes, tanker and Hazmat certifications. Victor may be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org