EDITORIAL: We are the Facebook police

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All but the most ostrich-like among us now understand that the 2016 election was compromised by Russian interests to benefit Donald Trump, who is now president.

They did it directly, by hacking into the Democratic National Party’s database and, most effectively, through propaganda campaigns executed by paid trolls on social media sites such as Facebook and Twitter.

And we know that they are still doing it. An entire campaign of Facebook ads depicting supposed Democrats who are “walking away” from the party utilizing the hashtag #walkaway has already been outed as fraudulent — the result of stock photo images and conservative dogma. The Twitter tracking tool Hamilton68 recorded known Russian bots actively amplifying the hashtag. Doubtless there are more on the way as the November election looms.

The purpose of propaganda, remember, is not to get people to think a certain way, but to cloud the water, blur reality and offer opportunities to question unacceptable truths. And in the case of #walkaway, which can also be described as a voter-suppression campaign, the point is not to persuade people to vote a certain way, but to persuade a certain group of people to not vote.

We’ve all got to get better at spotting it, and preventing its spread. We are the Facebook police.

The internet was envisioned as a self-regulating environment, where crowdsourced fact-checks could eventually pile up to something approaching an empirical truth. A corrupting influence always existed on the fringes of the digital consciousness, but Facebook and Twitter, specifically, allow genuine propaganda to be disseminated right there alongside cat pictures and videos of white ladies calling the police on black people.

We see these memes in our feeds every day, but the time for passive scrolling is over. There are things we can actively do to stop the spread of false information.

First off, stop sharing memes unless you have done the research behind them. Really, though, you shouldn’t post memes at all unless they are dank and non-political.

It’s good practice to fact-check all the memes that come through the feed — snopes.com is still one of the best fact-checking sites out there despite another propaganda campaign from the right to undermine its credibility, though Politifact, source documents and Census data will often do. Post your rebuttal right in the thread, and challenge the poster to take it down, or be complicit in the deliberate spreading of falsehoods.

Sometimes it even works.

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