The End of Social Media’s ‘View From Nowhere’
Trump’s extremism is forcing tech companies to abandon the pretense of political objectivity — for now
There’s an idea in media criticism known as the “view from nowhere.” Popularized by Jay Rosen, a journalism professor at New York University, the phrase takes aim at the ethos of political agnosticism that news outlets have historically cultivated. He argues that “both sides” reporting, which treats competing viewpoints or arguments as equally valid, does a disservice to the truth. Journalism about the “climate debate,” which used to give industry shills equal airtime alongside climate scientists, is a famous example.
But the deplatforming of Donald Trump, following last week’s violent insurrection at the U.S. Capitol, marks a departure from that approach. So does Facebook’s hiring on Monday of Roy Austin, a civil rights attorney who served in the Obama administration, for a newly created position at the company: vice president of civil rights. And when I remarked on that hire on Twitter — arguing that Facebook could have made such a move five years sooner had it not been so concerned with appearing neutral — a Facebook executive said something I’ve never heard from the company’s top brass.
“We’re not neutral,” Adam Mosseri, head of Instagram, tweeted in reply. “No platform is neutral, we all have values and those values influence the decisions we make. We try and be apolitical, but that’s increasingly difficult, particularly in the U.S. where people are more and more polarized.”
One could spend a lot of energy parsing the distinction between “neutral” and “apolitical.” But it doesn’t take a linguist or critical theorist to see that Mosseri was articulating a very different view than Zuckerberg has espoused in the past…