Americans are writing to the FCC about ‘fake news’ on TV, Google, and Facebook

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In response to a Freedom of Information Act request filed by Columbia Journalism Review’s Jonathan Peters, the FCC has released the smattering of complaints it has received about “fake news” since October 2016.

Unsurprisingly, the majority of the complaints Peters shared (from the batch of 40 the FCC supplied) are about perceived liberal bias on cable news networks:

“All news stations must be censored or fined when they continuously lie, obfuscate and misdirect intentionally. The most egregious of these is CNN, but ABC, CBS, NBC, MSNBC et al are equally guilty…”

Several others point out factual errors on Fox News, which also comes as no surprise. What’s more interesting about these complaints is how many of them dwell on information distributors that the FCC has absolutely no purview over.

For example, privately owned newspapers:

“The Mainstream Media news outlets are obviously trying to undermine our President and our nation by inundating the public with fake news, misleading stories, and one-sided biased interviews and spokespeople. It is most apparent on CNN, MSNBC, ABC, CBS, NBC, and PBS, but also print media like the New York Times and Washington Post.”

The National Enquirer:

“…no one can tell me why they are contractually obligated to display fake news immediately adjacent to the cashier. Their only response is that it makes them money, people demand it. I can give full details in e-mail”

A fake news website:

“My 75 year old father told me about this site and the memory boosting pill Bill Gates touted in Forbes. I explained it was a fake news site. Why is this not regulated?”

Google’s search results:

“There are several editorials that are not clearly marked as such that the mainstream news networks such as CBS and NBC then air on their various news programs as if it is news and not opinion.”

And Facebook:

“…Mark Zuckerberg was a Hillary fan and in the beginning of the presidential race, Trump used to get 10,000 likes an hour while Hillary got a few thousand? Towards the end, Trump would get a few hundred a day and Hillary would get thousands. Zuckerberg donated $17 million to Hillary which I call collusion and conspiracy and if she won, my belief he would have control of the Internet. There was and is endless fake news on FB. Much of it made up against Trump by FB, Hillary and the democratic party. I really feel that the FCC needs to investigate Face Book & Zuckerberg and drain that swamp.”

While the collection of complaints is pretty small, it’s notable that Americans seem to have no idea who to talk to about the internet.

You can check out Peters’ full report here, but he notes that the FCC responded to most of these complaints to explain that social media and non-broadcast cable news do not fall under its jurisdiction. In some cases, the complainants were pointed in the direction of the Federal Trade Commission, or a state consumer-protection agency.

It’s odd to see Facebook lined up among the country’s major news networks, though the fact that nearly half of America’s adult population gets their news there certainly helps explain it. As Peters points out, the complaints imply that consumers think “fake news” is a problem the government should be responsible for solving, no matter where it occurs.

One of the complaints also argues the criminal unfairness of Facebook’s ability to “block who ever they choose,” nodding at another popular misunderstanding of the positioning of social-media networks. Facebook and Twitter are, obviously, private companies — they don’t have a legal obligation to provide anyone an unconditional spot on their platforms, and they aren’t accountable to a governing body for the information that spreads there. If you have beef with either of them, no one at the FCC is going to do much about it.

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