A media researcher who serves on the global board of billionaire George Soros’ Open Society Foundations has called for the creation of a “public social media platform” to counter an alleged “right-wing media network,” which he claims is “anchored” around Breitbart News.
Ethan Zuckerman is director of the Center for Civic Media at MIT and serves as the principal research scientist at MIT’s Media Lab. He is also a member of the global board of Soros’ Open Society Foundations.
Zuckerman penned a piece in the Atlantic last week titled, “The Case for a Taxpayer-Supported Version of Facebook.”
“A public social media platform would have the civic mission of providing us a diverse and global view of the world,” was the subtitle of his missive.
Zuckerman referred to a study he conducted last March that analyized 1.25 million stories published during the 2016 election cycle and purportedly found “a right-wing media network anchored around Breitbart developed as a distinct and insulated media system, using social media as a backbone to transmit a hyper-partisan perspective to the world.”
Without citing a single example in his Atlantic article, Zuckerman claimed that Breitbart served as the anchor of a “media ecosystem of new, online-only outlets that mixed propaganda and conspiracy theory with partisan news.”
Referring to media outlets within this self-described right-wing “media ecosystem,” Zuckerman claimed those outfits are “not fake news in the usual sense of wholly fabricated articles written to earn online ad dollars, but hyperpartisan, partly factual news.”
Once again without citing any evidence, Zuckerman blamed this alleged “echo chamber” for taking a “fringe position on ending legal immigration, making it central to the 2016 presidential campaign and, ultimately, for helping the candidate willing to support this position rise to the presidency.”
He posited that those who get news from the “new right’s echo chamber” exist in a “hermetically sealed” online environment where such users often do not get news from outlets on other sides of the political spectrum.
Zuckerman failed to note the massive distrust that the American public has in the establishment news media, which could be a contributing factor to this alleged phenomenon. Instead, he warned that “being able to escape echo chambers and encounter a wide picture of news may be a necessary precursor towards a functioning democracy.”
Failing to note the left-leaning tendencies of public broadcasters like National Public Radio, Zuckerman claimed the “best public broadcasters in strong democracies – Canada, the United Kingdom, Germany – use their position to bring a wide range of perspectives and voices into the broader public dialog.”
His solution to the so-called “new right’s echo chamber,” which he claims is anchored by Breitbart, is the creation of a “public social media.”
Private platforms like Facebook are under no obligation to provide us a diverse worldview. If it is more profitable to bring us baby pictures from our friends than political stories, or to isolate us in a bubble of ideologically comfortable information, they will. A public social media platform would have the civic mission of providing us a diverse and global view of the world. Instead of focusing resources on reporting, it would focus on aggregating and curating, pushing unfamiliar perspectives into our feeds and nudging us to diversity away from the ideologically comfortable material we all gravitate towards.
Zuckerman’s study on news patterns in the 2016 presidential election seems to contradict an extensive study that found so-called fake news didn’t significantly impact the outcome of the election.
That study recently received a positive nod from the Poynter Institute, the group helping Facebook determine whether certain news stories are “disputed.”
The study, titled “Social Media and Fake News in the 2016 Election,” was co-authored by economists Matthew Gentzkow of Stanford University and Hunt Allcott of New York University. The paper utilized web browsing data, a database of what the authors claimed were fake news stories and a 1,200-person online survey about news trends.
The study concluded:
Our data suggest that social media were not the most important source of election news, and even the most widely circulated fake news stories were seen by only a small fraction of Americans. For fake news to have changed the outcome of the election, a single fake news story would need to have convinced about 0.7 percent of Clinton voters and non-voters who saw it to shift their votes to Trump, a persuasion rate equivalent to seeing 36 television campaign ads.
A project of Poynter, meanwhile, is the International Fact-Checking Network (IFCN), which drafted a code of five principles for news websites to accept, and Facebook explained that it will work with “third-party fact-checking organizations” that are signatories to the code of principles.
Facebook says that if the “fact checking organizations” determine that a certain story is fake, it will get flagged as disputed and, according to the Facebook announcement, “there will be a link to the corresponding article explaining why. Stories that have been disputed may also appear lower in News Feed.”
Breitbart News reported that a cursory search of the Poynter Institute website finds that Poynter’s IFCN is openly funded by Soros’ Open Society Foundations as well as the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, Google and the National Endowment for Democracy.
Poynter’s IFCN is also funded by the Omidyar Network, which is the nonprofit of liberal billionaire eBay founder Pierre Omidyar. The Omidyar Network has partnered with Open Society on numerous projects and has given grants to third parties using the Soros-funded Tides Foundation. Tides is one of the largest donors to left-wing causes in the U.S.
Omidyar also recently provided seed capital to the Anti-Defamation League (ADL), whose chief has baselessly smeared Breitbart News with claims of anti-Semitic associations, for plans to build a Silicon Valley command center that says it is aimed at combating online hate.
Aaron Klein is Breitbart’s Jerusalem bureau chief and senior investigative reporter. He is a New York Times bestselling author and hosts the popular weekend talk radio program, “Aaron Klein Investigative Radio.” Follow him on Twitter @AaronKleinShow. Follow him on Facebook.
With additional research by Joshua Klein.