NY Times At It Again: Has To Run Massive Correction For All The Errors In Aaron Sorkin's Facts Optional Rant About Why Facebook Should Fact Check

from the wanna-try-that-again dept

The NY Times' Opinion Section continues its run of truly awful decisions lately. As we learned during the Bret Stephens "bedbug" fiasco, the NY Times deliberately chooses not to fact check its opinion and op-ed writers, allegedly based on some weird belief that since these are opinions, they don't need any fact checking (or, alternatively, that some sort of fact checking might stifle the creative voices the NYT Opinion pages thinks are worth publishing).

Given that, it takes a certain amount of failed irony detection to then run an angry rant of an "open letter to Mark Zuckerberg" from screenwriter Aaron Sorkin complaining about Facebook's recent decision not to fact check political ads. Sorkin is an amazing writer, but it seems particularly odd to have him write such a piece, since he has a history of writing movies about real life people in which he completely misrepresents reality. Indeed, he did exactly that about Mark Zuckerberg. So it seems a bit rich to have him be the delivery person for a message about truth in media. And that's doubly so because many, many people believe that Sorkin's portrayal of Zuckerberg in The Social Network is accurate, when it is very, very much not.

But an even larger point: when you're writing an open letter to demand more fact checking, wouldn't you make sure to carefully fact check your own piece first? Apparently neither Sorkin, nor the NY Times Opinion pages thought that was worthwhile. And, as more and more people called out blatant factual errors in the piece, the NY Times had to gradually rewrite and issue a longer and longer correction on their piece.

Correction: Oct 31, 2019
An earlier version of this article misstated the year in which "The Social Network was released. It was 2010, not 2011. The nature of the major lawsuit that bankrupted Gawker was misstated. It was an invasion of privacy lawsuit, not a defamation suit. In addition, information about Americans' use of Facebook as a new source was misstated. In 2018, over 40 percent of Americans said they got news from Facebook; it is not the case that half of all Americans say that Facebook is their main source of news.

I'll note that the significance and importance of each of these corrections is in inverse order of how they are presented (and, indeed, the larger, more important corrections came later as well). It's not that big a deal that Sorkin forgot the year of his own damn movie, but it does seem at least a bit ironic in a piece advocating for the need for more fact checking that such an easily confirmed fact is misstated. The nature of Hogan's suit against Gawker might not matter that much to Sorkin, but it's actually a pretty big deal in terms of what happened and why it happened.

But the last one is a real doozy. A huge part of Sorkin's argument was that Facebook has to be held to a different standard because so many people use it as their "primary" source of news. Except that's not what the data shows at all. It shows a smaller percentage said they had found some news on Facebook. Not that it was a primary source. Separately, finding news on Facebook is completely meaningless regarding the question of fact checking political ads. Most of the news that people find via Facebook is legit. Some of it is not. But how much is that bit that is not accurate actually influencing people? That's an important question -- and one that isn't clearly answered yet. It would be interesting to find out, but Sorkin just seems to leap beyond all of that, misstate how many people get how much of their news from Facebook and assume the worst.

In some ways, that's just Sorkin being Sorkin. But it boggles the mind that anyone -- either Sorkin himself or the NY Times -- would think that they should rush forward with a snappily written attack on Facebook's failure to fact check... and not do even the most basic fact checking on the story itself. Even if Sorkin had a point in the "open letter," it is completely drowned by the irony of the errors.

But there is a larger point here: there are reasons why the NY Times chooses not to fact check its opinion pieces. You or I may disagree with them -- and we can speak out about why we think it makes the paper of record look like a cheap nonsense tabloid. But it has that choice. Facebook also has that choice -- and we can criticize them too. But the idea that fact checking magically fixes all things is completely overblown. And the idea that politicians will suddenly stop lying in ads, or that this will magically make voters smarter is all completely unsupported.

Sorkin's piece insists that "tens of millions of kids" are being misled by fake ads on Facebook -- but there's no evidence to support that. Indeed, most evidence regarding those susceptible to scam info on Facebook are the boomer generation. You know, like Aaron Sorkin. And, for what it's worth, actual data suggests that misleading stories didn't really take off from Facebook, but rather from television, which just happens to be the medium in which Aaron Sorkin is most famous. Funny that Sorkin doesn't mention any of that, isn't it?

Filed Under: aaron sorkin, content moderation, fact checking, mark zuckerberg, ny times opinion, political ads, social media
Companies: facebook, ny times


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  • icon
    crade (profile), 1 Nov 2019 @ 11:46am

    "In my opinion" It's a load of crap to claim that labeling errors and lies as opinions makes them such.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • icon
    Koby (profile), 1 Nov 2019 @ 11:47am

    The Reason

    This is precisely why many people call them Fake News.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

    • identicon
      Anonymous Coward, 1 Nov 2019 @ 11:50am

      Re: The Reason

      Now if only all news networks were judged by the same standard

      reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

    • identicon
      Anonymous Coward, 1 Nov 2019 @ 12:29pm

      Re: The Reason

      Call what fake news ... mainstream media?
      I guess mainstream media means things most people watch ... is Fox News still number one in that category?

      reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

    • icon
      Gary (profile), 1 Nov 2019 @ 12:31pm

      Re: The Reason

      This is precisely why many people call them Fake News.

      Actually not - Cadet Bonespurs invokes that when they publish True stories that aren't flattering to his ego.

      reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • This comment has been flagged by the community. Click here to show it
    icon
    Kevin (profile), 1 Nov 2019 @ 12:12pm

    Oh, the irony

    The fact that Techdirt runs this article the day after their own "facts optional" Sony blowjob clears the way for a stupid new level of absurdity.

    I note that the Techdirt Sony article doesn't have any corrections listed, such as fixing the misleading statistics regarding Wii unit sales; comparing lifetime sales of the Switch, which has been out for a little over three years, to the PS4, which has been available for six, and drawing baseless conclusions from that, and ignoring the fact that the Switch is the fastest-selling console in North America ever; and the most ridiculous of all, claiming Microsoft hasn't even announced its next console.

    At least the NYT issues corrections when they're wrong.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

    • icon
      Thad (profile), 1 Nov 2019 @ 12:29pm

      Re: Oh, the irony

      Give it a fucking rest, fanboy.

      reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

    • icon
      Gary (profile), 1 Nov 2019 @ 12:33pm

      Re: Oh, the crying

      Wait - are you actually bent out of shape because the article wasn't flattering enough to that little Switch handheld toy? Wow.

      reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

      • icon
        crade (profile), 1 Nov 2019 @ 12:51pm

        Re: Re: Oh, the crying

        Kill the messenger. It's a valid point despite the language. There was a time when errors in Techdirt articles used to get corrections issued too.

        reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

        • icon
          Gary (profile), 1 Nov 2019 @ 1:19pm

          Re: Re: Re: Oh, the crying

          Kevin seems more upset that the article claims "Sony Won the Console Wars" which is a matter of opinion, more than the sales numbers which can be spun in several ways.

          reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

          • icon
            Kevin (profile), 1 Nov 2019 @ 8:40pm

            Re: Re: Re: Re: Oh, the crying

            It's clear that Sony is on track to win this generation, depending on what you include in this generation. (For example, does it include WiiU? Does it include Switch, since it launched so much later? Do you look at Xbox One X and PS4 Pro separately from their respective base consoles? And so forth.) I don't dispute that. I'm not thrilled about it, but I also am not having a temper tantrum about it.

            My issue with the article was more that it seemed to go out of its way to find reasons to dismiss competing consoles as being from companies that are harmful to consumers versus no mention of, for example, Sony's recalcitrance for years on cross-console play. In addition to the shit that was just made up (like MS not having announced their next console).

            reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

            • identicon
              Anonymous Coward, 2 Nov 2019 @ 6:31am

              Re: Re: Re: Re: Re: Oh, the crying

              Certainly Sony has done far worse than "Sony's recalcitrance for years on cross-console play"

              reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

            • identicon
              Anonymous Coward, 3 Nov 2019 @ 10:42am

              Re: Re: Re: Re: Re: Oh, the crying of the fanbois

              “It's clear that Sony is on track to win this generation, depending on what you include in this generation.”

              Only fanboys care about that crap bro.

              reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

              • icon
                Samuel Abram (profile), 3 Nov 2019 @ 10:52am

                Re: Re: Re: Re: Re: Re: Oh, the crying of the fanbois

                Only fanboys care about that crap bro.

                Fanboys like Timothy "Dark Helmet" Geigner?

                reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

                • identicon
                  Anonymous Coward, 3 Nov 2019 @ 9:09pm

                  Re: Re: Re: Re: Re: Re: Re: Oh, the crying of the fanbois

                  Nope but thanks for playing bro. Maybe next time don’t be a fanboi.

                  reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

              • icon
                bhull242 (profile), 5 Nov 2019 @ 10:19am

                Re: Re: Re: Re: Re: Re: Oh, the crying of the fanbois

                I’m pretty sure the point was that he doesn’t actually care about that. He cares about the misleading statistics.

                reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

          • icon
            Samuel Abram (profile), 2 Nov 2019 @ 5:34pm

            Re: Re: Re: Re: Oh, the crying

            "Sony won the console wars" is an opinion, but Timothy used extremely misleading apples-to-dragons metrics in his column as well as factual errors, same as with Aaron Sorkin up above.

            reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

        • icon
          Thad (profile), 1 Nov 2019 @ 2:40pm

          Re: Re: Re: Oh, the crying

          It's a valid point despite the language.

          No, it's a fanboy who's so incensed by an article praising a game console he doesn't like that he's not just ranting about it in the comments for that article, and then replying to himself to rant about it more, he has to continue ranting about it in the comments of a completely unrelated article by a different writer.

          There are perfectly valid criticisms to make about Geigner's article. You made some yourself, and good on you.

          But c'mon, man, recognize a partisan fanboy when you see one. I've been watching temper tantrums like this since the days of Blast Processing; they were childish nonsense then and they're childish nonsense now.

          reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

          • icon
            Kevin (profile), 1 Nov 2019 @ 8:34pm

            Re: Re: Re: Re: Oh, the crying

            I own all three current-gen consoles (PS4, XB1, and Switch), and intend to buy a PS5 when it is released, presuming Sony doesn't repeat their PS3 launch pricing mistake. You can believe whatever you want, of course, but you're making assumptions, and you are wrong. My issues with the other article are not about disliking Sony, they are about making shit up and using those invented facts to draw conclusions, all the while criticizing other companies and giving the subject company a pass for similar behaviors.

            Perhaps I was misguided in posting a concise summary of the particulars of the corrections they need to make on that article here, but it was more about criticizing this article with a mirror (in which three corrections were issued here, and I listed about three corrections needed to Techdirt's article) to point out the hypocrisy of Techdirt in criticizing the NYT for an opinion piece needing corrections.

            It also seems to be a larger issue of the quality of Techdirt being on a pretty significant decline as of late, such as when the Adobe-Venezuela article was posted 10 days after refunds were offered stating that Adobe was refusing to offer refunds, despite the fact that Adobe reversed that stance about 9 days before publication, and not only that, but the Verge article that appeared to be Techdirt's primary source had been long-since updated to reflect that. Techdirt did eventually get around to posting an update, so I guess that's something.

            reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

            • identicon
              Anonymous Coward, 2 Nov 2019 @ 6:33am

              Re: Re: Re: Re: Re: Oh, the crying

              "It also seems to be a larger issue of the quality of Techdirt being on a pretty significant decline"

              This retort seems a bit juvenile.

              reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

            • identicon
              Anonymous Coward, 3 Nov 2019 @ 10:44am

              Re: Re: Re: Re: Re: Oh, the whinging

              “I own all three current-gen consoles (PS4, XB1, and Switch), and intend to buy a PS5 when it is released”

              Still not relevant bro.

              reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

          • icon
            bhull242 (profile), 2 Nov 2019 @ 5:54pm

            Re: Re: Re: Re: Oh, the crying

            Well, he accurately pointed out that there were factual errors and misleading claims in the article, that it seemed to be in support of an agenda or something, and that no correction has been issued, which makes it hypocritical for Techdirt to lambast the NYT for the corrections they were forced to issue.

            And the fact that it’s a different writer is immaterial. The NYT story was holding the publication as a whole responsible for an article by a single writer. Same goes for this.

            Also, as Kevin notes, your assumptions about his motivations are just plain wrong. They have no basis in what was actually said.

            reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

      • icon
        Kevin (profile), 1 Nov 2019 @ 8:51pm

        Re: Re: Oh, the crying

        I'm bent out of shape because the article went out of its way to point out anticonsumer behaviors by two companies while giving the third one a pass and providing misleading glimpses at unit sales, and then drawing conclusions from that.

        I'm more bent out of shape that Techdirt has the stones to criticize NYT for having to issue corrections on opinion pieces when they clearly have problems of their own in that very arena.

        reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

        • identicon
          Anonymous Coward, 2 Nov 2019 @ 6:36am

          Re: Re: Re: Oh, the crying

          I'm sure most people posting on TD are aware of the horrible things the Sony corporation has done.

          reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

          • identicon
            Anonymous Coward, 2 Nov 2019 @ 6:49am

            Re: Re: Re: Re: Oh, the crying

            It's been over a decade since they managed to hack everything they sold me again. Maybe they're turning around.

            reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

      • icon
        Samuel Abram (profile), 2 Nov 2019 @ 5:32pm

        Re: Re: Oh, the crying

        Wait - are you actually bent out of shape because the article wasn't flattering enough to that little Switch handheld toy?

        No, we're pissed because the Sony PS4 launched on November 15, 2013 and the Nintendo Switch launched on March 3, 2017 and yet Tim Geigner acts like that's a comparable time frame for console sales when the Wii U, which launched on November 18, 2012, would've been a far fairer comparison seeing as they launched one year apart and not four and half (not to mention that the Wii U would've made his case better because it was Nintendo's worst-selling system if you exclude the Virtual Boy).

        reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

        • icon
          bhull242 (profile), 2 Nov 2019 @ 5:58pm

          Re: Re: Re: Oh, the crying

          More relevantly, the fact that it hasn’t even been acknowledged, let alone corrected, and yet the very next article is criticizing the NYT for having to issue corrections for an opinion article they published. And this isn’t even the first or most blatant case where Tim Geigner has gotten things wrong without a correction being issued. That really pisses me off.

          reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

        • icon
          Gary (profile), 2 Nov 2019 @ 10:13pm

          Re: Re: Re: Oh, the crying

          No, we're pissed because the Sony PS4 launched on November 15, 2013 and the Nintendo Switch launched on March 3, 2017...

          Not a "Factual Error." Not comparable to the NYT article.

          reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

          • icon
            bhull242 (profile), 3 Nov 2019 @ 10:04am

            Re: Re: Re: Re: Oh, the crying

            Okay. Then how about where he claimed that the difference in sales numbers was because of Nintendo’s walled-gardens and aggressive enforcement of its IP (even though it’s entirely because of the difference in time spans, and Sony’s PS4 is at least as much of a walled garden as the Switch is)? Or the claim that Microsoft has yet to announce its next console (even though it has)?

            reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

    • icon
      bhull242 (profile), 2 Nov 2019 @ 1:04am

      Re: Oh, the irony

      That isn’t even the worst uncorrected article by Tim Geigner. There was one where he got two different developers confused, completely screwing up the article in the process. One was calmly and carefully explaining its decision to go Epic-exclusive. The other had been attacked over its decision to go Epic-exclusive. Here’s the thing: the latter company did not do a good job announcing the decision or in handling the ensuing backlash. This completely changes the way you would judge whether the backlash was even remotely reasonable or not.

      reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 1 Nov 2019 @ 12:13pm

    Correction is likely wrong

    In 2018, over 40 percent of Americans said they got news from Facebook

    I find it unbelievable that the NYT has quotes from 125 million Americans to back up this statement. It's much more likely that 40% of people in some survey said they get news from Facebook (not that they said they say they get news from Facebook, because how often would that come up in conversation?), and they extrapolated.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

    • identicon
      Anonymous Coward, 3 Nov 2019 @ 7:51am

      Re: Correction is likely wrong

      This is known as "statistics". A sufficient sample size is all that is needed to estimate the opinion of a larger portion of the population within a calculable margin of error. How this is news to you is a mystery.

      reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

      • identicon
        Anonymous Coward, 4 Nov 2019 @ 8:07am

        Re: Re: Correction is likely wrong

        "40% of Americans said something" isn't presented as an estimate. Estimates have error bars, and no good statistician would omit them. A proper statement would be something like "a poll (considered accurate within 4 percentage points, 19 times out of 20) suggests that 40% of Americans would say they get news from Facebook" (not that they did say it, because half a country doesn't spontanously say "I get news from Facebook" apropos of nothing). Of course, that assumes the number is based on all Americans, even those who don't get news from anywhere at all (such as babies); if not, the population needs to be better defined.

        It's like how no reasonable journalist would say "50% of Americans voted for Trump" because 50% of people claimed that in an exit poll.

        reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

        • icon
          nasch (profile), 4 Nov 2019 @ 8:33am

          Re: Re: Re: Correction is likely wrong

          Estimates have error bars, and no good statistician would omit them.

          It was one sentence in a correction to a editorial; I don't know why you're expecting statistical journal levels of rigor. The important point is that the original claim was an overstatement, not getting the margins of error exactly specified.

          reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

          • identicon
            Anonymous Coward, 4 Nov 2019 @ 9:35am

            Re: Re: Re: Re: Correction is likely wrong

            No, they don't need to detail the errors like a journal would (although for political polls they tend to), but it's somewhat sloppy reporting to leave ambiguity about whether something is a measured fact or an extrapolation. Especially when it's part of a correction—people writing corrections could be expected to be more precise than people writing articles or headlines.

            The idea that 40% of Americans would answer the question is not outrageous, because it would actually be practical to ask every Facebook user, via a Facebook yes/no question, whether it's their primary news source. If that were done it would certainly have been notable.

            reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • icon
    Ed (profile), 2 Nov 2019 @ 2:18pm

    Fact

    because many, many people believe that Sorkin's portrayal of Zuckerberg in The Social Network is accurate, when it is very, very much not.

    Zuckerberg (and Sandberg) are so much worse in real life.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • icon
    nasch (profile), 4 Nov 2019 @ 7:19am

    Also

    Correction: Oct 31, 2019
    An earlier version of this article misstated the year in which "The Social Network was released. It was 2010, not 2011. The nature of the major lawsuit that bankrupted Gawker was misstated. It was an invasion of privacy lawsuit, not a defamation suit. In addition, information about Americans' use of Facebook as a new source was misstated. In 2018, over 40 percent of Americans said they got news from Facebook; it is not the case that half of all Americans say that Facebook is their main source of news.

    An earlier correction to this article misspelled "news" as "new".

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]


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