Tim Cook’s chilling comments about fake news

Apple CEO Tim Cook sparks controversy with his authoritarian suggestions about how tech companies should combat fake news.

Tim Cook
Toru Hanai/Reuters

There are times when I really, really miss Steve Jobs. Say what you will about him, he more or less kept Apple out of the political fray, and that’s more than can be said for current CEO Tim Cook.

Cook recently did an interview with The Telegraph and made some very chilling comments about the problem of “fake news.” Cook’s thoughts suggested to me that he has a streak of Orwellian authoritarianism in him that could be quite dangerous to free speech and free thought.

Allister Heath reports for The Telegraph:

“It has to be ingrained in the schools, it has to be ingrained in the public,” said Mr Cook. “There has to be a massive campaign. We have to think through every demographic.

”We need the modern version of a public-service announcement campaign. It can be done quickly if there is a will.”

The rise of fake news was being driven by unscrupulous firms determined to attract online readers at any cost, he said.

“We are going through this period of time right here where unfortunately some of the people that are winning are the people that spend their time trying to get the most clicks, not tell the most truth,” he said. “It’s killing people’s minds in a way.”

“All of us technology companies need to create some tools that help diminish the volume of fake news.

"We must try to squeeze this without stepping on freedom of speech and of the press, but we must also help the reader. Too many of us are just in the complain category right now and haven’t figured out what to do.”

He said that this crackdown would help providers of quality journalism and help drive out clickbait. “The outcome of that is that truthful, reliable, non-sensational, deep news outlets will win,” Mr Cook said.

A new approach was required in schools, he said. “It’s almost as if a new course is required for the modern kid, for the digital kid.”

But he is optimistic. “In some ways kids will be the easiest to educate. At least before a certain age, they are very much in listen and understand [mode], and they then push their parents to act. We saw this with environmental issues: kids learning at school and coming home and saying why do you have this plastic bottle? Why are you throwing it away?”

More at The Telegraph

As I read the article, I couldn’t help but notice that when Cook used the word “educate” he seemed to actually mean “indoctrinate” when referring to kids. Perhaps that’s just my perception, but manipulating young children to rely on Cook’s preferred news sources does not seem like a good idea to me.

I almost found it hard to believe Cook made these statements, I cannot see Steve Jobs ever saying something similar. Jobs seemed to understand that quite a few of Apple’s customers tilted to the right in their politics, so he seemed to make a real effort to steer Apple clear of getting involved with partisan politics.

Compare that to Tim Cook’s behavior as CEO and you are left with a rather glaring difference between the two. Cook has made it a point to weigh in on immigration, gay marriage, fake news, global warming and other issues with alarming alacrity.

It says something about Tim Cook when he is in the headlines much more often when commenting about politics than he is touting new or updated products from Apple. Shouldn't the CEO of a company be known more for the company's products than for his personal political opinions?

And just who gets to define what is and is not "fake news?" Tim Cook? Thanks but I'll pass on having Cook or anybody else at Apple, Facebook, Google, Twitter or any other company try to tell me what constitutes fake news.

Is it time for Tim Cook to leave Apple?

I was a big fan of Cook’s when he first took over for Jobs. I felt then that he should have time to prove himself as Apple’s CEO. Stepping into Jobs’ shoes was probably one of the most difficult things that any person could have done, and Cook seemed to do well for a while.

But now I can’t help but wonder if it’s time for Tim Cook to give up the job and stop being Apple’s CEO. His constant forays into politics are angering many of Apple’s customers (more on that below) and he seems unable to regularly update some of Apple’s important products.

Here are a few examples of problems at Apple that Tim Cook has not dealt with while running around offering political commentary:

1. No new Mac mini for three years

2. No new Mac Pro for three years

3. No new iPad Air for three years

4. iPhone design has been the same for three years

5. No 4K in the Apple TV

6. No more monitors made by Apple

7. No more AirPort routers

All of these are problems that the CEO of Apple should be focusing on to improve the company’s business. Yet instead of doing that Tim Cook is prognosticating about political issues, and it is not serving Apple well at all.

Some people have already bailed out of the Mac and moved to building or buying their own desktop computers to run Windows or Linux. Others have bought Amazon’s Fire TV, Alexis and other competitive products since they have tired of waiting for Apple to update its product line.

Right now it feels like Apple’s CEO is missing in action, and it makes me wonder if perhaps Tim Cook would rather leave the company to go spend his time on political activism instead? If I were Apple’s board of directors, I’d make sure I had a strong list of candidates to replace him because Cook just doesn't seem focused on being Apple's CEO right now.

What people are saying about Tim Cook’s comments about fake news

Cook’s comments have generated controversy in Apple communities around the web, to say the least. Many people have tired of him pushing his politics on Apple’s customers, and they haven’t been shy about sharing their thoughts.

MacDailyNews and MacRumors are two of the most prominent Apple sites on the web. I’ll leave you with a selection of comments from each site about Tim Cook and fake news.

The MacDaily News blog had a long thread about Cook’s comments:

Brutal Truth: “Did Tim Cook not say “All of us technology companies need to create some tools that help diminish the volume of fake news. We must try to squeeze this without stepping on freedom of speech and of the press, but we must also help the reader” or not?

Just how does Tim want to “help” the reader? To understand the actual facts, or the facts as Tim Cook sees them?

The latter. Don’t pretend to be obtuse. Don’t always expect that the shoe will be on the other foot.

As MDN so clearly asked, Who determines what’s “real” news and what’s “fake?”

There can be no final arbiter. Certainly not biased tech companies headed by wannabe SJWs.”

Pocketrash: “I wish Ol’ Pipeline Tim could be as tight lipped about his politics as he is about Apple’s supposed future products. It’s honestly getting just tiring. If he wants to follow Steve Jobs example, start with keeping your mouth shut about politics. Or at the very least, make sure you’re killing it with your day job, which you are clearly not, before getting involved in every political cause. And for goodness sake, quit abusing company resources on one-sided ideologies.

Nobody wanted to believe in Tim more than me but defending him and his comments have become exhausting.”

GoeB: “The legendary “think different” Apple has now been hijacked by the Clueless Cook runway, or is it run away, politically correct and activist crowd. Steve would not approve, but obviously Cook does not heed the advice.

Meanwhile, no new Mac Pro desktops, iPad upgrades, routers and monitors dead, buggy release software, iClouded and on and on. Liquid metal products? Apple TV? Project Titan? Oh sorry, all in the pipeline.

Question for the Apple Board: Do you pay Cook to be a one-sided political activist on the company dime or do you pay him to be an impartial CEO of the largest company on planet Earth?”

JWSC: “This is shocking reading. I would not have believed it otherwise. I’ve been a Cook supporter (more or less) but he appears to have jumped the shark here. I’m gobsmacked!”

First2014: “What Cook really fears is that the loss of leftist control over the “news” is “killing people’s minds” to being receptive to the lie that is statist globalism.”

Botvinnik: “The face of Big Brother in Apple’s “1984: ad is Tim Cook.”

JHR: “I have been an Apple devotee for many years, and probably will continue to be one for a long time. But when the CEO is using terms like “ingrained” and it’s explicitly clear that he means only his viewpoints are what should be ingrained, this is tipping on the edge of totalitarianism. The next logical step would be to have those who disagree with so-called “correct thinking” sent to government re-education centers.

Example: I state that I disagree with former President Obama’s decision to nix the Keystone pipeline project. In the present day, I am immediately called a racist to my face by co-workers (this actually happened, by the way). In the near-future, I would not only be labeled a racist for disagreeing with a politician’s decision, but would also be sent to a government re-education center for some Manchurian candidate-style mind adjustments.

“All of us technology companies need to create some tools that help diminish the volume of fake news. We must try to squeeze this without stepping on freedom of speech and of the press, but we must also help the reader.” — Tim Cook

“…help the reader”. Help them how, Mr. Cook? By allowing them to read a singular viewpoint approved by the central committee? Does anyone else think it’s ironic that liberals decry any form of censorship, unless it’s needed for their cause? It’s honestly more frightening than ironic. And it should be damn frightening to everyone, regardless of your political views.”

Chace Novak: “Tim, JUST RUN THE DAMN COMPANY!!!! Stay out of these political catfights..they mean NOTHING!! Go forth and EXTERMINATE Samsung..that’s why shareholders (like me) are paying you your monstrous salary!!!”

More at MacDaily News

Cook’s comments about fake news also generated a large thread in the MacRumors forum, and the folks there didn’t pull any punches in sharing their thoughts:

NaeS1Sean: “I feel like he's more politician than anything else these days.”

Cole Slaw: “Dear Tim;

Please focus on running your company to the best of your ability and spend less time on politics and being a social justice warrior.

Thank you.

P.S., if you can find the time could you please update your desktop computers sometime this decade?”

Dan110: “Dear Tim,

I would counter that The Chief Problem at Apple is that its CEO is paying way too much attention to political and social issues and not on the actual company.”

Wizard: “Come on here, Cook is a died in the wool Democrat, he positively hates the idea that they lost so badly in the last election. The goal here is to get people to accept censorship of the media and more importantly the news.

Does anybody really think that Apple or Facebook will implement their censorship systems without bias? Seriously people need to wake up here, this is nothing more than the left trying to extend control of the media.”

Hawkeye: “I miss Steve Jobs' class & demeanor when it came to the privacy of his personal politics, and his focus & dedication to the company he ran.”

Snoopy4: “Tim, your left slanted algorithm in your news feed product is part of the problem.”

Cineplex: “The problem with Timmy's News app is that the general public will use it without question (like most Apple things). So this means Apple essentially controls the news to all of it's users. There are millions of people getting their news from just Apples news product. Since Apple likes to tell you how you should feel, there is no doubt that the corporate culture will trickle down to the people curating the news or the people writing the algorithms to curate the news.

As someone that has seen the inside of Apple I can tell you they all demand (with unspoken rules) that your thoughts, ideals, and opinions match those of the corporation...if they don't, you will quickly find yourself in a situation that ends with you out the door. Tim's beliefs are very much the same beliefs of Apple employees on the clock...their jobs depend on it. The best public example I can site is Apple's crazy retail hiring practices. Exercises to see who thinks like the rest of the clan.

I have no doubt that if Timmy wants people to think a certain way about something, he will use all the tools at his disposal.”

Smoledman: “Tim Cook is just upset that Trump got elected.”

Nick42983: “Apple News is a prime conduit for fake news. It consists almost entirely of liberal/leftist sources. Cook can put his money where his mouth is and stop shilling for the cultural Marxist rot pumping out of Hollywood and the rest of the mass media. ”

More at the MacRumors Forum

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