Memo To Tech Leaders: It’s Time to Stand Up To The Bully In Chief.


Trump Fake news?Next week Sheryl Sandberg, COO of Facebook, and Jack Dorsey, CEO of Twitter, will testify in front of Congress. They must take this opportunity to directly and vigorously defend the role that real journalism plays not only on their platforms, but also in our society at large. They must declare that truth exists, that facts matter, and that while reasonable people can and certainly should disagree about how to respond to those facts, civil society depends on rational discourse driven by an informed electorate.

Why am I on about this? I do my very best to ignore our current president’s daily doses of Twitriol, but I couldn’t whistle past today’s rant about how tech platforms are pushing an anti-Trump agenda.

Seems the president took a look at himself in Google’s infinite mirror, and he apparently didn’t like what he saw. Of course, a more cynical reading would be that his advisors reminded him that senior executives from Twitter, Facebook, and Google* are set to testify in front of Congress next week, providing a perfect “blame others and deflect narrative from myself” moment for our Bully In Chief.

Trump’s hatred for journalism is legendary, and his disdain for any truth that doesn’t flatter is well established. As numerous actual news outlets have already established, there’s simply no evidence that Google’s search algorithms do anything other than reflect the reality of Trump news, which in the world of *actual journalism* where facts and truth matter, is fundamentally negative. This is not because of bias – this is because Trump creates fundamentally negative stories. You know, like failing to honor a war hero, failing to deliver on his North Korea promises, failing to fix his self-imposed policy of imprisoning children, failing to hire advisors who can avoid guilty verdicts….and all that was just in the last week or so.

But the point of this post isn’t to go on a rant about our president. Instead, I want to make a point about the leaders of our largest technology platforms.

It’s time Jack, Sheryl, Sundar, and others take a stand against this insanity.  Next week, at least two of them actually have just that chance.

I’ll lay out my biases for anyone reading who might suspect I’m an agent of the “Fake News Media.” I’m on the advisory board of NewsGuard, a startup that ranks news sites for accuracy and reliability. I’m running NewsGuard’s browser plug in right now, and every single news site that comes up for a Google News search on “Trump News” is flagged as green – or reliable.

NewsGuard is run by two highly respected members of the “real” media – one of whom is a longstanding conservative, the other a liberal.

I’m also an advisor and investor in RoBhat Labs, which recently released a plugin that identifies fake images in news articles. Beyond that, I’ve taught journalism at UC Berkeley, where I graduated with a masters after two years of study and remain on the advisory board. I’m also a member of several ad-hoc efforts to address what I’ve come to call the “Real Fake News,” most of which peddles far right wing conspiracy theories, often driven by hostile state actors like Russia. I’ve testified in front of Congress on these issues, and I’ve spent thirty years of my life in the world of journalism and media. I’m tired of watching our president defame our industry, and I’m equally tired of watching the leaders of our tech industry fail to respond to his systematic dismantling of our civil discourse (or worse, pander to it).

So Jack, Sheryl, and whoever ends up coming from Google, here’s my simple advice: Stand up to the Bully in Chief. Defend civil discourse and the role of truth telling and the free press in our society. A man who endlessly claims that the press is the enemy is a man to be called out. Heed these words:

“It is the press, above all, which wages a positively fanatical and slanderous struggle, tearing down everything which can be regarded as a support of national independence, cultural elevation, and the economic independence of the nation.”

No one would claim these are Trump’s words, the prose is far too elegant. But the sentiment is utterly Trumpian. With with apologies to Mike Godwin, those words belong to Adolf Hitler. Think about that, Jack, Sheryl, and Sundar. And speak from your values next week.

*Google tried to send its SVP of Global Affairs and General Counsel, Kent Walker, but members of Congress have said they are tired of hearing from lawyers. It’s uncertain if the company will step up and send a leader of an actual business P&L, like Jack or Sheryl. 

Cross posted from Searchblog


12 thoughts on “Memo To Tech Leaders: It’s Time to Stand Up To The Bully In Chief.”

  1. The author begs to be taken seriously as a “real journalist”, yet his political bias is so glaringly obvious, it begs the question: What, exactly, IS considered real journalism these days?! What ever happened to unbiased news based on simple facts and objective observation? Today’s news narrative can be, and often is, a complete fabrication based on crisis actors and cherry picked “witnesses”, whether by the left or the right. The vast majority of the news is utterly consumed with bashing not only the president but anything conservative in nature, at all. News has become synonymous with propaganda, no matter what political bias. Unless you are not corporate or state sponsored, that’s all anyone will ever rightly perceive you to be. And here’s a hint for you if you want to be taken seriously as a “real” journalist: don’t toot your own horn, hoping to build believable credibility with a Berkely journo degree. You might as well proclaim the virtues of Marxism and all that is wholly anti-American since the Vietnam era. I can’t imagine there’s a further left leaning institution.

  2. So Battle if your Claiming Twitter an Facebook are anywhere in the neigh othood of Honest Truthful passage of Info an not Mouth pieces of Disi formation / fake / lying News story – then sir your either -Crazy – Luar or paid Fake writer for Democratic Party. I believe your end game is same as others – D Dismantle Constitution – Install Socialist / Communist State run by the Democrats. That Screwing the American Boters is your #1 Goal.
    You sir should be very scared of the vass majority of the 64 Million Trump Voters. WE WILL NOT LOSE OUR CO STITUTION OR LOSE OUR COUNTRY !

  3. This is a biased article. We all know your so called *real journalism* is screwed its absurd quite frankly. You sit here and type this article out like your on the side of facts, well heres a fact for you id like you to explain; alex jones was quoted by numerous new outlets that he said to get battle rifles ready for the media. Now i must say i have been regularly listening to Infowars to see another side of the news which is to me more legitimate then all the bought and paid for news channels on mainstream tv stations, well i have never or did ever hear mr jones say those remarks in that same sentence one time nor does he want that to happen. So tell me how they could pull that sentence out of context and expect anyone who is actually paying any attentions to believe you or anything these media outlets are peddling. Its sad that you would sit here writing a fake news article blatantly lying your fingers off when people know the truth, i think your worried your type may be in the list if unemployed at the end of this infowar.

    1. Thanks for your comment. Not sure calling my commentary a “fake news article” is productive, but you have every right to say what’s on your mind (though namechecking Alex Jones isn’t going to sway me, I’m afraid).

  4. 2 postulates:

    1. (Semantics) – in one sense, when Trump says “fake news”, he’s definitely leveraging off of a few genuine failures on the part of mainstream media (CNN and NYT have both had a few egregious *oopsies – and I’m not here to compare the length of FOX’s buried retractions page). But, I believe he is pulling the emotional lever rooted in the theatre of it all – it’s glitz, choreography, tit/tat, gotcha-oh-yeah-buts, – all of the things that make it “fake”. I think we have seen that among his genuine leadership talents, is an ability to blur empirical lines with emotional appeals. Demanding an empirical measure for what constitutes fake news might do a lot to curb this running narrative. I’m almost certain the president won’t be able to offer one, and I actually need think it is a daunting and necessary challenge for journalists. (industry)

    2 (Practical) – for some obvious, but also some unnecessary reasons, retractions and corrections are unacceptably low priority in the broader news cycle. There are tit/tat examples of say FOX going back and forth at NYT – both making actual demonstrable claims – and those get some attention for a few days, but the problem with reinforced narratives is that once you’ve heard the wrong information first, you are less likely to update your database on correction – and instead of magnifying retractions/corrections in order to help mitigate that problem, corrections and retractions are buried in favor of some sort of team sport among journalists that is oriented by a set of outlets as much as divided by political lines

  5. Beyond standing up to the bully in chief and representing the value of the 4th estate, the giant tech firms need to get their own houses in order. The very mechanisms that enable them to sell advertising are in large part creating the problem. “Likes” and “followers” and “ratings” are engineered to increase engagement and that means to sell advertising. They have given these tools to everyone, and as our twitterer in chief has so well demonstrated, these tools can be abused. In a way they were meant to be abused. Like farms, troll farms – pretty much the same thing. Russian bots.

    Last week I had the honor of being featured by the US App Store in a Meet the Developer piece about an app I created – RefAid. This app helps refugees find the services nearest them provided by trusted aid organizations. It was my passion project, something I paid for and supported with the technology my company developed for something else. It is being used in 22 countries by 5,000 aid organizations, including all of the largest: UNHCR, Red Cross, Medecins sans Frontieres (Doctors Without Borders) and on and on.

    So when Apple contacted me to say they wanted to feature my app, to feature me, I was blown away. Since my company has been funding this humanitarian app we have been limited in how many people we can reach – we have no marketing budget. I knew that many, most refugees probably use Android phone (yes almost all have smart phones because it is the only way to stay in touch with their families back home), I thought the exposure would be great for RefAid and would likely attract more NGOs and aid organizations.

    On Augusts 23 the Apple App Store (US) feature appeared on the Today Tab. Out of 2.1 million apps available on the App Store only a few dozen “Meet the Developer” features have been produced since their new format started 11 months ago.

    This is the first time a social impact app has been featured – big news for social impact apps.

    Good news, bad news. The bad news was that as soon as the story appeared at the top of the App Store the trolls began attacking the app with poor ratings and violent, anti-immigration commentary.

    “I think this developer should have one of her love ones killed by a “Refugee”. See how good she would feel by someone giving their murderer help in breaking the law & killing them or their loved ones.”

    “Now people can use this to know what no-go zones to stay away from so they don’t get raped or attacked with acid!”

    “This lady need to be in jail!!!”

    There were dozens like that. Finally after reporting then the App Store removed most of them – a week later. That meant that all truly interested people were met with a barrage of comments that you would not want your teenager to be exposed to. Not to mention the fact I felt a little like someone had declared the equivalent of jihad on me!

    In a week where I should have been using this momentum to further the purely humanitarian goals of my app I was reporting violent comments and battling trolls. Our 5 star rating in the US fell from 5 to 2, and has now inched back up to 2.5. The good news for our app and the people we serve has turned sour. Some of the trolls were tricky – they wrote comments to accompany their 1 star rating like “The app doesn’t work.” Of course it works. It has been used for 2 1/2 years with no problem. But they know that Apple won’t remove a comment like that. And Apple will not remove all of the 1 star ratings that were given without comments.

    So not only do tech giants need to stand up for the importance of real news. They need to get their own house in order. I am a strong proponent of American free speech. It is so much stronger than the right of free speech everywhere else. But I believe the tech giants who benefit so much from these tools they have created, that can ruin lives, can manipulate elections need to look at how they can moderate the use of these tools.

    Like a democracy, ratings only work when everyone votes. And it is often the ignorant and angry who shout the loudest and make their voices heard. Wikipedia has figured out a way to monitor what is written. This does not require rocket science. It does however, require a moral high ground. My RefAid app was the first social impact app to be featured by the App Store. I should be happy. But the trolls are winning. And the App Store is so much more difficult to infiltrate because the users need to be real people, not bots. It is time for tech companies to grow a conscience. Or we will be left in a dictatorship where even they have lost all of their rights.

      1. Not yet. I thought I would pitch this as a story to a few journalists this week, since it has so many threads. Refugees. Border separations. GAFA. Tech4Good. Any ideas?

        Apple Today Tab editorial staff have been amazing – to promote this app when it is clearly such a politically charged issue. None of us imagined this though.

        Link to the story in iTunes if you have an iPhone:

        Link for a web browser or Android:

      2. I am sure a few reporters would be interested in exploring. Email me? jbat @ newco dot co

  6. The scariest part is, if you actually know your history- which by the way, Americans are not taught in school, so you have to learn it on your own- the way this President acts and the way some Americans defend him no matter what, no matter how glaring the ugly truth is- is Exactly the way Hitler came to power. He destroyed any media that was not in his favor, imprisoned and tortured countless people- including families, children, etc. By the time his followers realized what they were doing was wrong it was too late to turn back or they would be killed too, and by then we were in a full blown world war. Years & years of torture & innocent lives lost. Pick up a real history of the beginning of WWII, how Hitler came to power- and take notice. Wake up!! The Germans to this day keep that history alive so no one will repeat that atrocity. But here we are, America, ignoring the dark past and trying really hard to repeat it. Families torn apart, children taken from their parents & kept in modern day concentration camps in the USA…so wrong!! How can anyone defend this idiot? We all came from another land at some point in our own family history to make a better life. That’s all these people are trying to do. And that’s just the beginning of what’s wrong with this “President”. He’s in no way presidential. He is turning back years & years of progress in this country, destroying our lands & our economy which by the way you won’t feel overnight, by the time you feel it, it will be too late. Ask Germany, they are still feeling the effects!

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