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JUDY’S TAKE: Free Expression or Protection from High-tech Lies?

The Facebook Dilemma That May Threaten our Very Democracy

Frankly, I'm disgusted with Mark Zuckerberg.

"I am here today because I believe we must continue to stand for free expression.”

That's how Mark Zuckerberg defended Facebook's position at a recent meeting held at Georgetown University. Facebook had just refused to remove a political ad that contained a blatant falsehood. Facebook stated that even if political claims are false, they are newsworthy and not worth fact-checking. He basically made the same argument at a congressional hearing a week later. What???? He also claims his stand is consistent with the First Amendment and likened it to the civil rights movement. I guess Mr. Zuckerberg didn't major in American History or journalism at Harvard! (By the way, he majored in Psychology and he took lots of Computer Science classes.)

Would that the issue were so simple. Already in the last presidential election there were political ads posted on Facebook that were outright lies and foreign governments interfered with the election process by posting highly targeted political messages on Facebook meant to pit groups against each other.

Aside from already posting hate speech, violent content, and other forms of disinformation, we are now facing an even more insidious threat to our democracy. It's called deepfakes, and intelligence experts made them the topic of a House Intelligence Committee hearing last June. It's also the subject of one of our NewsBroads' podcasts.

Deepfakes are convincing videos that are digitally manipulated to make people say or do things that never happened. Amazing new advances in technology over the last four years have made it easier and cheaper for all of us to create them. You can actually take an authentic video of Nancy Pelosi and have her, in her own voice, with her lips moving in sync, endorse Donald Trump for President. Or you could have her claim that Joe Biden is a convicted sex offender! Sounds preposterous?? Maybe, but there are a lot more realistic and insidious uses of this newly available technology. Even journalists and our own intelligence community cannot be sure of what's real and what's not, if seeing is still, in fact believing.

The point is, most people in this country do not even know deepfakes exist. Surely a tech guru like Mark Zuckerberg does. And FAKE speech does not equal FREE speech in anyone's book! Yes, we pretty much all agree that every opinion in this country should be heard no matter how odious. But outright deception and lies are NOT opinions. And lies should be discovered and rejected on any and all media platforms.

Mr. Zuckerberg has said the public could make its own determination about false political statements and racially divisive content from politicians. But this is totally disingenuous. As he already knows, the public may not have the tools to distinguish what is fake and what is not given the state of our new technological advances.

Traditional media companies are declining to air ads with false content. Social media platforms let anything go, which, by the way, does not exactly hurt their bottom line. Hitler knew the best way to manipulate the masses was by constant disinformation. If Mr. Zuckerberg thinks an "anything goes" policy is helping democracy or democratic ideals, he is either fooling himself or worse. It is just the opposite. It is he, and his fellow social media compatriots who will be spreading "fake news," NOT the traditional media.

Perhaps Mr. Zuckerberg would accept a deepfake depiction of himself on Facebook looking at the viewer and saying, “I stole the concept of Facebook from my friends and passed it all as mine and today I’m selling the private information from everyone on Facebook to advertisers and spam merchants.” Certainly, he will let it run for millions to see as his version of freedom of the press.

As for myself, let it be known that I have always been a severe critic of over-regulation in this country. But if the truth does not set us free, what will?

By Judy Licht

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