A Troubling Trend

December 14, 2022, Editorial by Kurt Johnson, copublisher, The News-Register, Aurora, NE
What do free speech and a free press mean to you?
The answer to that question is apparently much different for big tech company execs than it is the rest of the business world, according to breaking news stories published last week. It reflects a troubling trend, frankly, where social media platforms have literally changed or shaped the narrative on issues of the day simply because they can.
Case in point, Meta Platforms, the parent company of Facebook, exposed a flawed value system last week when it announced that it may be forced to consider removing news content from its platform if Congress passes legislation requiring tech companies to pay news outlets for their material.
In case you haven’t followed that issue, the Journalism Competition and Preservation Act, if passed, would allow news companies to collectively negotiate with social platforms over the terms on which copyrighted material appears on their sites. Meta, in response, said it would rather pull news from its platforms than “submit to government-mandated negations that unfairly disregard the value we provide to news outlets.”
Say what?
Meta is using its own creative definition of “free press” in this argument. Many news organizations, including the News-Register, have had articles, photos and videos created by paid staff members posted without permission by various tech companies on their sites. They can use whatever term fits their narrative, but in any other realm that’s called theft.
Though much of today’s “news” begins and ends with randomly shot video snips, which may in fact cost nothing to obtain, the reality is that covering issues in depth, interviewing sources from opposing points of view and creating fact-based reports costs money. You get what you pay for, unless of course you are Meta.
Another tech giant making headlines these days is Twitter, where the world’s richest man is trying to turn his new $44 billion toy into a global digital town square, allowing anyone and everyone to say what they feel, unfiltered. It sounds good in concept, but there is a lot of devil in those details, as we saw in the 2020 election.
I happen to be a Twitter fan, in fact the News-Register utilizes that platform to post ads and tease content published in each week’s edition. It can be a way to share our content digitally, but there is a difference between sharing and artificially amplifying. Extremists and partisan media outlets, we’ve learned after the fact, have used bots to amplify a certain spin or point of view, which only adds chaos to the conversation.
It remains to be seen if Elon Musk will be successful in his attempt to capitalize free speech via Twitter, but his tone thus far is troubling. “This is a battle for the future of civilization,” he tweeted last week. “If free speech is lost even in America, tyranny is all that lies ahead.”
Big tech companies have overstepped their bounds by assuming they can redefine “free speech” and “free press” when in reality the ultimate objective is to boost their bottom line.


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