Why Social Media Companies and News Organizations Need to Atone this Yom Kippur

MONDAY IS YOM KIPPUR, THE JEWISH RELIGION’S DAY OF ATONEMENT.

I have a lot to atone for. I regularly “skip intro” on Netflix shows; I don’t always wash my hands for a full two “happy birthdays”; and I generally use the posted speed limit as more of a suggestion.

Jews believe so completely in “nobody’s perfect” that we have an entire day dedicated to apology and guilt. You know it’s a big deal because we can’t even eat for 24 hours, and most Jews can’t go without eating for 24 minutes (unless it’s before swimming, then you gotta wait at least an hour. No idea why that is, I just always assumed it was in the Torah somewhere.)

But this Yom Kippur — the one that comes amid a global pandemic, social injustice and an election where democracy itself is at stake — I’d like to amend the standard directive to apologize to those whom you’ve hurt or wronged in some way. This year, I want to ask social media companies and news organizations to apologize to us.

No, sorry, that’s not enough. Not this Yom Kippur. This year, I want them to do their fucking jobs.

Disinformation still flows on Facebook, Twitter, YouTube and others with alarming regularity. And while I get that stopping all the crap is about as easy as holding back a tsunami with a cheese grater, it’s not an excuse to allow the stuff that’s actually caught to stay up with ineffective disclaimers.

There are too many examples to cite — from Photoshopped videos and baseless conspiracies, to misleading ads targeted to swing state voters. When Donald Trump Jr. promotes false election-rigging narratives on Facebook or shares fake videos of Joe Biden on Twitter, they earn barely a shrug from the platforms.

Sure, Facebook may point you to accurate election information, but it won’t remove the offending content despite being false and in violation of their own rules. Twitter can apply a “manipulated media” label but will still let the fakery get shared.

Think about it: That’s like serving someone a 32-ounce bottle of cyanide with a tiny six-point type label at the bottom that reads “poison.” The social media companies are basically saying hey, technically we warned you, so if you choose to go ahead and drink that’s not our problem.

And sorry (there I go apologizing again) but I don’t want to hear the “we’re not a news organization, we’re just a platform” argument. You can take that thinking back to 2015 when we might have cared.

In true fairness, this isn’t all on social media. Our once venerable Fourth Estate needs to take more responsibility too, especially those who cover the White House.

First, stop covering the White House. What the hell are you covering exactly? When’s the last time any actual news happened there that you couldn’t get some other way — like, I don’t know, through actual reporting?

Second, being “objective” doesn’t mean “report everything people say even if it’s total bullshit.” This isn’t journalism school and democracy isn’t a game — if the Pulitzer committee gave out awards for Not Putting Up with Crap, we’d see an immediate improvement in coverage.

Finally, stop beating up on Fox News. CNN is better than Fox (anything is) but not by much β€” it’s essentially Fox without the fealty. “Television news” overall is an oxymoron right up there with “President Trump.” You want to learn an actual fact, try reading a newspaper (yes, they still exist.)

This Yom Kippur, we need apologies from social media and traditional news media. And we need action to ensure that by next year Facebook doesn’t change it’s name to “Q” and that Dr. Oz doesn’t replace Dr. Fauci.

Okay, I should probably apologize for that. But this is the last time I let you all off the hook.

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