CNN attempted to test the limits of Facebook’s new campaign against fake news by questioning the presence of InfoWars on its site.
In a piece on the CNN website, senior media reporter Oliver Darcy said he asked multiple members of Facebook’s team about how Facebook could tackle fake news while still allowing InfoWars, a site known to many for peddling extreme conspiracy theories, to have an active presence on the site.
In the piece, Darcy alleged InfoWars is responsible for “spreading demonstrably false information and conspiracy theories.” While CNN is appearing to act as the safeguard against “fake news,” the network CNN has its own history with promoting stories that verge from the truth. He followed that up with close to 20 tweets and retweets on the topic, asking, “If Facebook thinks the content is bad, shouldn't no one see it?”
John Hegeman, the head of Facebook’s News Feed, told Darcy, “I guess just for being false that doesn't violate the community standards.” According to Darcy, Hegeman continued, allegedly claiming the site had “not violated something that would result in them being taken down.”
In response to Darcy’s question, Hegeman emphasized how Facebook wants to be a neutral platform for all people, irrespective of political views or potentially unpopular opinions.
“I think part of the fundamental thing here is that we created Facebook to be a place where different people can have a voice. And different publishers have very different points of view,” he said.
Lauren Svensson, a Facebook spokesperson, told Darcy, “We work hard to find the right balance between encouraging free expression and promoting a safe and authentic community, and we believe that down-ranking inauthentic content strikes that balance.”
“In other words, we allow people to post it as a form of expression, but we're not going to show it at the top of News Feed,” she said.
Svensson then explained the actions Facebook takes against accounts and pages that violate its policy against spreading fake news:
That said: while sharing fake news doesn't violate our Community Standards set of policies, we do have strategies in place to deal with actors who repeatedly share false news. If content from a Page or domain is repeatedly given a 'false' rating from our third-party fact-checkers ... we remove their monetization and advertising privileges to cut off financial incentives, and dramatically reduce the distribution of all of their Page-level or domain-level content on Facebook.
CNN Has Its Own Problems
CNN’s complaint to Facebook cited three separate types of charges against InfoWars. Those included: items that were “demonstrably false”; “conspiracy theories”; and stories that have “smeared” news subjects. Here’s how CNN has run afoul of similar criticisms:
‘Demonstrably False’ Stories
- CNN promoted a Russia story that led to the resignation of three of its journalists, including a Pulitzer Prize winner. In the story, CNN claimed Congress was investigating a “Russian investment fund with ties to Trump officials.” While CNN was reluctant to admit it was wrong, it retracted the story, apologized and said it “did not meet CNN’s editorial standards.” The Washington Post called it a “debacle.”
Along with other news sources, CNN perpetuated the false “hands up, don’t shoot” narrative surrounding the shooting of Michael Brown with an on-air show of solidarity by some of its commentators. The “hands up, don’t shoot” myth came out of claims by witnesses that Brown had lifted his hands and mouthed “don’t shoot” before he was shot. It later became a talking point and chant for Black Lives Matter activists. Both CNN’s Anderson Cooper and CNN’s media reporter Brian Stelter admitted the narrative was a lie and inconsistent with the Justice Department’s investigation.
CNN has also dabbled in its own share of conspiracy theories. During a CNN segment about the Malaysia Airlines Flight 370, CNN’s Don Lemon entertained the notion that a black hole could have swallowed up the plane, even though he admitted it was a conspiracy theory and “preposterous.” CNN Worldwide president Jeff Zucker criticized Lemon, saying “Don, don’t be an idiot.”
CNN has often tried to blame people on the right for acts of terrorism. In 2013, during the aftermath of the Boston bombing, CNN national security analyst Peter Bergen speculated that “right-wing extremists” could have been behind the attack. CNN’s Wolf Blitzer asked whether the Massachusetts state holiday of “Patriots’ Day” had anything to do with the bombing. Patriots’ Day is dedicated to commemorating the Battles of Lexington and Concord. In light of the Manchester Arena bombing, CNN terror analyst Paul Cruickshank claimed that while the attack was most likely done by Islamic terrorists, that he needed to mention “in recent months in Europe, there’s been a number of false flag plots where right wing have been trying to blame Islamists for terrorism.” After the terrorist attack in Barcelona, CNN’s Jim Sciutto and Wolf Blitzer claimed it could have been a “copycat” of the incident in Charlottesville. Bergen also compared Islamic terrorist attacks to the incident with the “right-wing extremist” in Charlottesville.
CNN cut ties with Reza Aslan, who was hosting a show titled Believer on the network, after he used a profane insult against President Trump. CNN smeared Pence by claiming he would not distance himself from David Duke and ran the headline “Pence Won't Deplore Duke.” The channel also reportedly aired the graphic “PENCE REFUSED TO CALL DAVID DUKE 'DEPLORABLE.'"
Considering CNN’s viral campaign about apples, bananas, and the truth, CNN may want to reevaluate itself before accusing other sites of perpetuating fake news and conspiracy theories.