[Estimated reading time 4 minutes, 48 seconds]

We need not only to watermark the sources, we need to certify the profession. But if we attempt to define journalism we need to know what it is.

The Swedish National Encyclopaedia defines it as a profession aimed at “depicting reality”, separated from fiction in its aim to be factual and from academia by being current.[1]

Another definition is that “journalism is uncovering something someone wants to hide; the rest is PR” signaling the aim to be independent from stakeholders.

Another definition could be that journalists are working find “the best obtainable version of the truth”. But then there is the problem of who is in control of the definition.

When General Augusto Pinochet ousted the democratically elected president in Chile 1973 mandatory press IDs were issued by the Ministry of information. A problematic issue for journalism because as easy as you can issue an ID you can revoke it. The self-censorship that follows is apparent in the accounts from Chilean journalists working under the dictatorship.

Today China and Russia are examples of the same schemes being employed by autocratic rulers afraid of letting the public have access to the truth.

# Facebook isn’t journalism

Mark Zuckerberg does not want to become a journalist, but he is increasingly forced to employ the tools journalism has developed over 500 years. Facebook today reportedly has some 30 000 employees working on removing unwanted content as well as algorithms trying the same thing.

Facebook isn’t journalism, at least not yet. But increasing demands are raised to moderate the enormous flow of content not to give f. ex hate speech or slander a platform. Here they need an ethical compass, even if the moderation is not journalism.

So, already in 2008 Facebook began writing a document trying to guide their hordes of censors and define what could and couldn’t be posted. The initial rules were simple, outlawing nudity and gore. Algorithms were taught to identify nipples and removed those pictures.

But what about breast feeding mothers? Are they also to be banned? And how do you define hate speech? Facebook quickly ran in to a morass trying to answer these questions and they have not succeeded.

Quite the opposite. They are running into wall after wall.

According to Human Rights Watch 671 000[2] people have fled their homeland in Burma due to the military’s large-scale campaign of ethnic cleansing. This was fueled by social media posts inducing Burmese to go after the Rohingya minority.[3]

En bild som visar person, utomhus, byggnad, manBeskrivning genererad med mycket hög exakthet

A Reuters investigation[4] in 2018 found more than 1,000 Burmese posts, comments and pornographic images attacking the Rohingya and other Muslims, some of the material was extremely violent and graphic.

“To be honest I thought we might find at best a couple of hundred examples I thought that would make the point,” says Reuters investigative reporter Steve Stecklow, who worked with Burmese-speaking colleagues on the story.

The material that Reuters team found clearly contravened Facebook’s censors bible but the reason it wasn’t removed was a simple one. It takes manpower. The German Stasi experienced the same. The number of employees and paid Stasis informers counted in percentages of the total population in the GDR.

But in 2014 Facebook only had one censor who spoke Burmese. According to Reuters that number had increased to four the following year. The company was aiming for 100 Burmese speakers by the end of 2018.

Facebook can now be said to have blood on its hands.

A very real possibility in the world of publishing, something editors and journalists must consider all the time.

The picture that changed history, and Facebook censored

The pendulum swung the other way when Facebook tried to use machines to solve the problem of scanning the 300 million pictures being posted daily to the network.[5].

When the Norwegian daily Aftenposten published a picture of a naked nine-year-old girl on its Facebook page of in 2016 the algorithms automatically censored it.

The problem was that the girl was Phan Thị Kim Phúc.

She was naked, yes, nipples were showing because her clothes had been burned off by American napalm and she was running down a road in Vietnam. AP: s photographer Nick Ut’s picture is one of the most iconic of the effects of the war and his and other journalists´ coverage of the war can well be said to have contributed to the end of a killing that took 1.3M lives.[6] [7]

En bild som visar skärmbild, text, dagstidningBeskrivning genererad med hög exakthet

But Facebooks algorithm can only identify one kind of nipples and censored it. When Aftenposten put it up again their whole account was banned. Suddenly Norway’s largest newspaper was banned from the world’s biggest publishing platform.

The editor Espen Egil Hansen wrote an open letter to Mark Zuckerberg on the front page of the paper he could still print in Norway and when that spread Facebook had to back down.

Possibly journalism can be defined as something performed with the mandate of the public’s need to know, not financed or influenced by stakeholders[8]. But it’s clear that defining it is not child’s play and it takes experienced professionals to perform it.

After the debacle with Cambridge Analytica and the 2016 US elections Facebook invited “The Atlantic Council’s Digital Forensic Research Lab” to “to enhance its investigations of foreign interference. “ [9]

The problem here is of course…. Who is The Atlantic Council? Sometimes called a think tank devoted to studying serious and at times obscure international issues, sometimes “a de facto PR agency for the U.S. government and NATO military alliance”[10].

On advice of the Council’s Digital Forensic Research Lab Facebook took down 32 suspicious pages and accounts in only one month in 2018. They were purported to be run by “leftists and minority activists”.

The work of Russian agents? Facebook said it did not know for sure.

//updated 20190426//

  1. “ “Journalistik avser ytterst att skildra verkligheten; den skiljer sig från skönlitteratur genom att inte syssla med fiktion och från vetenskapligt arbete genom krav på aktualitet.” NE

  2. https://www.hrw.org/tag/rohingya-crisis accessed 20190409

  3. https://www.bbc.com/news/blogs-trending-45449938 accessed 20190409

  4. https://www.reuters.com/investigates/special-report/myanmar-facebook-hate/ accessed 20190904

  5. “Photo uploads total 300 million per day. (Source: Gizmodo)” https://zephoria.com/top-15-valuable-facebook-statistics/

  6. “ Kostnaderna för kriget kom att bli enorma. USA förlorade över 55 000 i döda och 305 000 i sårade, den sydvietnamesiska armén mer än 250 000 i döda och 780 000 i sårade. Förlusterna för FNL och Nordvietnam är svårare att beräkna men har uppskattats till ca 925 000 döda och över 2 miljoner sårade. Till detta kommer flera hundra tusen civila offer i både norr och söder”Nationalencyklopedin, Vietnamkriget.http://www.ne.se/uppslagsverk/encyklopedi/enkel/vietnamkriget (hämtad 2019-03-21)

  7. https://www.aftenposten.no/kultur/i/2gGLx/Facebook-snur-om-Vietnam-bildet

  8. “ People in charge of or controlling other people” https://dictionary.cambridge.org/dictionary/english/powers-that-be accessed 2019-03-31

  9. https://www.reuters.com/article/us-facebook-cyber/u-s-think-tanks-tiny-lab-helps-facebook-battle-fake-social-media-idUSKBN1KS22N

  10. https://mronline.org/2018/05/24/facebook-partners-with-hawkish-atlantic-council-a-nato-lobby-group-to-protect-democracy/ accessed 2019-04-14