The New York Times published an op-ed calling for Facebook not to fact check after public discussion of the social site’s role in allowing fake news to be distributed. Problem is it didn’t fully disclose that the author, journalist Jessica Lessin, and her husband have “close ties to Facebook and its founder, Mark Zuckerberg.”
There was a brief disclosure that her husband worked at Facebook “for a brief period,” but that wasn’t enough, public editor Liz Spayd argued.
Lessin’s Nov. 29 op-ed, “Facebook Shouldn’t Fact-Check,” called for people to stop expecting Facebook to fact check the news because it would be “unprecedented and dangerous” for Facebook to be in charge of sorting through the real and the fake. Lessin is identified by the Times as founder and chief executive of a tech website called The Information.
“We can all agree that Facebook should do much more to make sure that blatantly fabricated claims that Donald J. Trump won the popular vote or received the pope’s endorsement don’t spread and are, at a minimum labeled fakes,” Lessin wrote. That said, she suggested Facebook could use other ways to weed out bad content beyond “hiring editors to enforce accuracy.” Lessin pointed to the gray area on some fact checks and how it could be problematic to have the social media site have someone “policing the ‘truth,'” especially given the private communication aspects of Facebook and the sheer amount of content on Facebook.
“I’m not comfortable trusting the truth to one gatekeeper that has a mission and a fiduciary duty to increase advertising revenue, especially when revenue is tied more to engagement than information,” Lessin argued, pointing to how the news industry has tried to adjust its model to make money off Facebook.
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As Spayd explained, Lessin’s husband is a “long-time friend of Zuckerberg,” helped introduce him to investors, sold him his business and worked as a Facebook vice president. In addition, Spayd noted Zuckerburg was reportedly a groomsman at Lessin’s wedding to her husband, Sam. iMediaEthics has written to Lessin for comment.
Spayd said that the Times should have disclosed more than just a “brief” employment at Facebook for Lessin’s ties to the company given the “potential for a conflict of interest.” The Times‘ Op-Ed editor Jim Dao explained that the Op-Ed page does “obviously allow writers with conflicts to write for our page, so long as they disclose those conflicts,” and that the Times should have “provided a bit more information.” For her part, Lessin told Spayd that she had no problem disclosing anything but that she also had publicly criticized Facebook.
“What I question is the rather half-hearted effort to tell readers just whose argument they were hearing,” Spayd wrote. “A disclosure that simply says her husband was a Facebook employee makes it seem almost not worth mentioning — as if he was one of thousands who passed through the doors of the sprawling tech company every day.”
Hat Tip: Fast Company