Of the terms bantered back and forth between the Right and the Left since the political season, “fake news” is one of the most memorable ones, with implications on how we handle journalism. With the dawn of Alt-Right news articles with wildly inaccurate facts and a saturation of white supremacist sympathizing think-pieces, Facebook came under fire for its terms not drawing a line.
At the time Facebook made a concerted effort to tackle these issues and to try to improve where possible.
“Just as the information ecosystem in which these dynamics are playing out is a shared resource and a set of common spaces, the challenges we address here transcend the Facebook platform and represent a set of shared responsibilities,” Facebook said in a study from last year. “We have made concerted efforts to collaborate with peers both inside the technology sector and in other areas, including governments, journalists and news organizations, and together we will develop the work described here to meet new challenges and make additional advances that protect authentic communication online and support strong, informed, and civically engaged communities.”
On Friday, August 25th, however it was announced that Facebook has hired on former NYT Public Editor Liz Spayd on a consulting basis to help with transparency. This is a move that has been questioned a lot by the left, as Spayd has her own history with the Alt-Right.
One of the more famous interchanges took place with a questionable far right meme retweet. According to The Daily Beast, upon pressure from a far-right Pizzagate conspiracist and disbeliever in date rape Mike Cernovich, she publicly rebuked a Times editor for making a pun about Breitbart and dogs.
The scary part of the above story is that Spayd fell completely for the flurry of emails sent to her as Alt-Right spam that were falsified through different means to make public outcry seem larger than what it is.
Another famous critique of Spayd is her disastrous defense of the false equivalency on the right and the left.
“Suppose journalists deem Clinton’s use of private email servers a minor offense compared with Trump inciting Russia to influence an American election by hacking into computers — remember that?” Spayd wrote in her column. “Is the next step for a paternalistic media to barely cover Clinton’s email so that the public isn’t confused about what’s more important? Should her email saga be covered at all? It’s a slippery slope.”
For Spayd, it seems the idea of signal boosting hate-filled rhetoric, even hate-filled rhetoric she recognizes, is less important than posting things that will get noticed. Her basic stance is well-outlined in an interview with The Atlantic.
“I feel like there’s maybe a little bit of confusion that I take what readers write about and agree with them. The majority, I don’t agree with,” Spayd said. “You know, you pick the ones that you think are making an interesting case for something.”
Daniel Johanson (he/him) is a journalist and digital media specialist living in Chicago, Illinois. He serves as Editor-in-Chief at Scapi and in that capacity manages all things content, including writing and editing articles and producing digital content. His most recent work includes the docuseries Heart of a Nation: Tracking Socialism in the Midwest and co-hosting the podcast Scapi Radio. He spends his free time with cats.