If you post something on social media, do you think the platform should fact-check posts for accuracy and call out false information?
I saw an interesting complaint about a social media platform that posted a notice on a user’s post about false information. In this case, the platform was Instagram. The complaint wasn’t that the platform decided to fact-check posts and alert users of falsehoods. Instead, it focused on the type of content being fact-checked.
The complaint came from a person I follow but do not know well. Who he is, in this context, doesn’t seem important. His complaint, however, does seem worth talking about.
The post in question involved a quotation attributed to Winston Churchill:
“Success is not final; failure is not fatal: It is the courage to continue that counts.”
It sounds like good advice. I find value in the sentiment on its surface. My life and work experience tells me there is definitely truth in the sentiment. But Instagram posted a notice over the post stating that fact-checkers determined that the post contained “false information.”
It elaborated this way:
There is no evidence that Winston Churchill said this quote about success and failure.
This prompted the user’s complaint.
He asked why such fact-checking was even necessary, then said, in part:
Social media platforms are a lot like societies. When there is an overabundance of controls to protect the people from harm, there is less good in protecting the people from harm. Instagram and Facebook have determined that everyone is unintelligent with no common sense… and an inability to think for themselves. The only faith they have in you is your ability to keep their ad dollars flowing in. And for that, they thank you, peasant.
On one hand, I can understand the complaint about fact-checking a quotation from a famous person. There are surely more important things that can be fact-checked.
On the other, I disagree with the position that social media platforms don’t have at least some responsibility to set the record straight when someone attempts to spread false information through their service.
I don’t see this as a question of whether social media platforms see society as lacking common sense. I also don’t see this as a case of them accusing us of being unable to think for ourselves.
But at the same time, since social media is a big part of my real job, I see plenty of instances in which people behave this way. They grab information that is easily disproved and share it without hesitation. When you attempt to call out the falsehood, rather than looking into the counter-argument, they immediately attack the fact-checker.
I don’t for a second believe that society as a whole lacks common sense. However, I really don’t think it’s unreasonable to suggest that common sense is largely lacking in our society.
Very often, we believe what we want to believe before we believe what the facts might actually tell us.
In case you’ve lived under a rock for the last decade, political discourse has deteriorated to the point that everyone seems to be screaming but few seem to be willing to listen anymore.
Fact-checking becomes important.
I think this user’s point was, of all things, why bother fact-checking a positive, inspirational quote attributed to a respected public figure.
Some might feel more passionate about it if the post attacked someone or something. I understand that.
But given the problems with political discourse, we can all surely imagine that quotes could be falsely attributed to political figures for reasons other than inspiration.
We now live in a world in which “deepfake” video technology exists. This type of video not only misattributes quotes or bends reality; it attempts to bolster the falsehood by providing what some would consider more compelling evidence. Makers of deepfake video rely on people believing the notion that “the camera doesn’t lie.” Thereby, deepfake video makers attempt to use videos in which the camera does lie to convince people that something false is blatantly true.
Is it important to fact-check an inspirational quote? Not necessarily. But that brings us to a much more important question:
Where should efforts to fact-check posts begin and where should they end?
Who gets to decide that, since this quote over here might inspire people in a positive way, we’ll just let the fact that it’s false slide by. And who gets to decide that that quote over there might change people’s mind on a political issue and therefore needs to be fact-checked harder?
We’re relying largely on artificial intelligence to determine what might be false or inaccurate. We shouldn’t try to put limits on what it looks for.
If we’re going to be honorable, we shouldn’t post something we don’t attempt to fact-check ourselves, even if it seems “innocent.”
More importantly, if we value honesty and integrity, we shouldn’t be so offended when even an “innocent”-sounding post gets flagged for falsehood. We should appreciate the efforts at transparency. We should be grateful that even small falsehoods are pointed out.
Take whatever inspiration you find from the quote itself. No problem. If the quote becomes less inspiration if Winston Churchill himself didn’t say it, then I suspect the quote has less value than you believe it did. That’s not the social media platform’s fault. That’s entirely on you.
But if you’re angry about even “minor” inaccuracies being pointed out, I have to wonder why that concerns you so much.