Opinion: Berger’s Information Fraud

The N.C. Senate President gets caught violating Facebook policy, responds by accusing Facebook of 'censorship'



N.C. Senate

There was an innocent time, once, when citizens took blatant deception from public officials seriously. As they dredged up Watergate malfeasance, Woodstein ran across some sources willing to talk about a particular incident of Nixonian rat(copulat)ing: a series of telegrams and a New York Times ad paid for by the President’s re-election campaign to make it appear that Nixon had more public support for the 1972 mining of a North Vietnamese seaport than he did. The Washington Post’s city editor “told the reporters to write a story on the campaign of deception surrounding the Haiphong issue,” the reporters later wrote in All the President’s Men. “‘This hits home,’ he said. ‘People understand attempts to tamper with public opinion.’”

Well, they did, anyway; or maybe they still do and care less, or not at all. In case you missed it, here’s the latest relations-with-rodents maneuver by Phil Berger, the president pro tem of the North Carolina Senate. He or his staff recently used an arcane Facebook tool to change the headlines of N&O, Charlotte Observer, and WBTV stories posted to his page. The changes, to at least five stories, turned down-the-middle headlines into clickbaity anti-Roy Cooper fodder. For example, “Sports official says HB2 closing window on hopes of landing NCAA events” in the Observer became “Cooper’s block of HB2 repeal, unwillingness to compromise is closing window on hopes of landing NCAA events.”

The N&O caught on. Executive Editor John Drescher wrote Berger and asked him to stop. Berger’s chief of staff responded by suggesting that Berger staffers collaborate with the N&O on headlines. On Thursday, Facebook confirmed that the alterations violated Facebook policy and deleted some of the altered posts and accompanying comments. Berger responded—on Facebook—by accusing Facebook and the N&O of censorship. “Facebook doesn't enforce this policy on other pages,” he or a staff member wrote. “Makes us wonder if they're targeting us because of our conservative values.”

Let’s quickly review. A public official violates a private entity’s policy by altering, for political purposes, the intellectual property of another private entity. The reporting of this fact, and Facebook’s deletion of content from its own site, constitutes “censorship.”

Numerous people commenting on Berger’s response have, poignantly, encouraged Berger to brush up on basic ethics, or instruct his staff on the difference between reporting and propaganda, or serve the real needs of North Carolinians for once. They might as well throw sunflower seeds into the sun. Berger, four-plus years into his status as the most powerful legislator in a legislature that needs not respect anything but its own whims, knows damn well that the people who care about such things won’t vote for him anyway, and the people who do vote for him will shrug off the fraud because “most everyone agrees that the NandO pushes fake news,” as one esteemed scholar on Berger’s page put it.

Berger and his staff know, too, that changing headlines works beautifully as a propaganda/branding technique because six of every 10 readers, according to one study, share or retweet links without reading the stories. Deceiving the public is no big thing when the public willingly participates in its own deception. I’ve seen the future, and it’s a cesspool full of deflowered rats.

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