Dear Gods that Control the Internet (GTCTI),
We need to get a handle on things. The digital realm has gotten out of control–in a lot of ways–but for right now I’m talking about the proliferation of false information. Don’t worry, this is a non-partisan rant. It doesn’t matter which side you are on, or even if you’re not on a side. No one wants to be duped. So, yes, this was spurred by the absolutely absurd level of misinformation curated and propagated on social sites during the election (one completely false article was shared over A MILLION TIMES!), but if you want to leave politics out of it, that’s fine, too. Fake contests, dangerous diets, inaccurate Hollywood exposés…name a topic, and one can find a plethora of “news” sites, “articles,” and “research” organizations that misrepresent it.
I know, I know, you’re going to say “but we can’t tread on free speech.” I get that. I’m all for free speech. Let’s just make it clearer when something is actually an opinion. Or, demonstrate when a source is legit, and not some lunatic writing nonsense at four-in-the-morning in his mom’s basement.
And hey, I realize we can’t prevent people from putting up false sites or creating fabricated articles. But, you (yes YOU Facebook), COULD create a system to help weed out the imposters. I mean you kind of owe it to the BILLION people who use your platform. Especially considering a lot of your participants view you as a primary news source.
How do I know you can do it?
Well for one thing, last week I asked our Digital Director, “Can Facebook have a feature that fact checks articles, or at least determines if they are even from real sources?”
And he said, “Interesting. Sure. That’s buildable. There are several ways. You know how Google ranks things by popularity? There are ways FB (or any social platform) could check for credibility. There are also things you could evaluate to see if the information comes from a real publication.”
I replied, “What about partnering with an unbiased, third-party, fact checking organization?”
Again he said, “Sure, that has possibilities as well.”
And then, the VERY NEXT DAY, my brother sent this Slate piece:
And my friend sent this bit on The Verge:
If what I’ve read here is true (I struggle with trust. Huh, I wonder why?), the technology ALREADY EXISTS to clean up Facebook. Man, it’s time. I know it’s terra incognito. I understand there’s a lot at stake. But think of the alternative? People have proven they’re anxious to curate and share information that supports their own way of thinking. And a billion people are using a platform that organizes and regurgitates shared items by popularity. It’s a recipe for disaster; passionate advocates, itchy mouse fingers, and a wealth of misinformation that keeps swirling around the same circles–gosh, that sounds like the perfect setting to create a vacuum.
If your social connections could clearly see that a source doesn’t exist, or that a piece checks out as incorrect, it would be pretty embarrassing to share it, right? I mean Sally from Syracuse doesn’t want to be perceived as someone who doesn’t know the difference between real news and a hoax. No one wants to look silly. Implementing some version of a credibility score could prevent the perpetuation of misinformation on multiple levels. And perhaps keep us from selling to ourselves, and the people who agree with us, how very right we are, about everything.
Today, the whole world is wondering, “How did we become so polarized?”
Well…I’ve got a guess…
Cassie Augustine Jones
NOTE: This is an OPINION piece. Nothing I write is news.