‘The OANN and Newsmax Problem’: Former Facebook Official Compares Conservative ‘Disinformation’ to ISIS, Calls For Censorship
WASHINGTON, DC - MAY 15: Alex Stamos, chief information security officer at Yahoo! Inc testifies before the Senate Homeland Security Committee May 15, 2014 in Washington, DC. The committee heard testimony on the topic of on "Online Advertising and Hidden Hazards to Consumer Security and Data Privacy."
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Appearing on CNN’s “Reliable Sources,” a former top official at Facebook discussed changes which should be made to combat political radicalization online. 

Alex Stamos, the former chief security officer at Facebook — who left the social media giant in 2018 during “an internal dispute over how to handle the threat” of disinformation during the Midterm elections — compared the technological fight against radical Islamic terrorism on multiple occasions with the battle against “disinformation” from conservative news outlets One America News Network and Newsmax, as well as radical “conservative influencers,” against whom social media companies and other organizations must “collaborate.”

Stelter began by asking Stamos whether there will ever be a “real, clear, full solution to this information crisis,” to which Stamos responded, “It’s really hard because what’s happening is people are able to seek out the information that makes them feel good, and that is what’s happening is that, you know, people have so much choice now.”

Stamos continued, arguing that audiences being able to choose their news sources and online influencers allows them to “try to seal out anything that helps them question that.” 

“And I think that gets to a really core issue with how our freedoms as Americans and the way we have treated press freedom in the past is being abused by these actors in that we have given a lot of leeway, both in the traditional media and on social media, to people who have a very broad range of political views. And it is now in the great economic interest of those individuals to become more and more radical.”

According to Stamos, One America News Network (OANN) and Newsmax, “are trying now to outflank Fox on the right because the moment Fox [News] introduced any kind of realism into their reporting, immediately a bunch of people chose to put themselves into a sealed ecosystem.”

“They can do that both on cable. They can do it online, and that becomes a huge challenge in figuring out how do you bring people back into the mainstream of fact-based reporting and try to get us back into the same consensual reality.”

Brian Stelter, host of “Reliable Sources,” then asked Stamos whether that goal was even possible.

“It’s hard. I think we got to do a couple of things,” Stamos replied. “One, there needs to be an intentional work by the social media companies collaborating together to work on violent extremism in the same way they worked on ISIS. When I started at Facebook in 2015, the number one challenge from a content perspective was the abuse of social media by the Islamic State. And there was a collaboration between the tech companies, and between the tech companies and law enforcement, to make it impossible for them to use the internet to recruit and radicalize mostly young Muslim men at the time around the world.”

Stamos then continued to compare the problem of handling Islamic radicalization online with domestic political disputes, including directly comparing the strategies of ISIS and Republicans in Congress.

“Now we’re talking about a domestic audience in the United States and the challenge is going to be partially that ISIS did not have a domestic constituency in the United States Congress, but over half of the Republicans in Congress voted to overturn the election.”

Stamos then concluded by summarizing his desired strategy.

“So I think first, you have to focus on those violent extremists and those companies have to be brave in that way,” Stamos said, calling for companies to stand up against the “continual political pressure” not to take such issues seriously.

“And second,” Stamos continued, “we have to turn down the capability of these conservative influencers to reach these huge audiences. There are people on YouTube, for example, that have a larger audience than daytime CNN and they are extremely radical and pushing extremely radical views.”

Stamos did not reference specific examples of such conservative influencers and did not discuss whether such radicalism also exists on the left. He finished by alluding to the censorship of certain platforms by Verizon, AT&T and other providers.

“And so it’s up to the Facebooks and the YouTubes in particular to think about whether or not they want to be effectively cable networks for disinformation,” Stamos concluded. “And then we’re going to have to figure out the OANN and Newsmax problem, that these companies have freedom of speech but I’m not sure we need Verizon, AT&T, Comcast, and such to be bringing them into tens of millions of homes. This is allowing people to seek out information if they really want to, but not pushing it into their faces, I think, is where we’re going to have to go here.”

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