Zuckerberg: We're going to suppress "untrusted" news sources

Yesterday Ed looked at a new plan from Facebook wherein you’ll be able to use the social media platform as a dating site, costing you nothing more than a willingness to share your most intimate information with that trusted, secure keeper of data. But wait… there’s more! Racking up additional points in the What Could Possibly Go Wrong sweepstakes, Mark Zuckerberg rolled out yet another new and exciting plan. During an on-the-record chat with journalists (which was curiously named OTR, or “Off The Record”) the tech magnate announced that they are now going to be rating news outlets, both mainstream and new media, as to their “trustworthiness” and either promoting or suppressing those sites based on their scores. (Buzzfeed)

Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg said Tuesday that the company has already begun to implement a system that ranks news organizations based on trustworthiness, and promotes or suppresses its content based on that metric.

Zuckerberg said the company has gathered data on how consumers perceive news brands by asking them to identify whether they have heard of various publications, and if they trust them.

“We put [that data] into the system, and it is acting as a boost or a suppression, and we’re going to dial up the intensity of that over time,” he said. “We feel like we have a responsibility to further [break] down polarization and find common ground.”

Zuckerberg went on to say that his company would be investing, “billions of dollars in a combination of artificial intelligence and tens of thousands of human moderators to keep both fake news and deliberate propaganda at bay, especially in elections.” He then played the hero card by boasting that it would cost them a lot of money in lost political advertising revenue, but that’s just the price they’ll have to pay to clean up this dirty, dirty system.

It’s a challenge to even begin wrapping your head around how many alarm bells should be going off right now. First of all, how will Facebook be determining the “trustworthy” score of the various news sites? Will they be diligently going through fact checkers, tallying up one story after another to determine what percentage on each site passes the veracity test? Don’t be silly. That would involve a lot of actual work. No, instead they’re just asking users who are willing to take a survey what they feel about the various sites and whether or not they trust them.

You can see already how that’s going to work out, right? Trump supporters are going to review CNN with zero trust and call them “fake news.” The same will probably be true for the major alphabet network news programs. Liberals will do the same to Fox, not to mention conservative-leaning sites like Breitbart, the Washington Times and the Daily Caller. (And yes, likely Hot Air as well.) Conservatives will give a thumbs down to MSNBC, Shareblue, Media Matters, Vox and the rest of their ilk. The only winner in this game will be the ideological side which gets to submit more survey responses and the final “score” will mean essentially nothing.

And what about that artificial intelligence and “tens of thousands of human moderators” who will be combing everyone’s Facebook pages to keep fake news and deliberate propaganda at bay? First of all, AI isn’t that smart yet. And that means that human moderators will have to be the judges of what qualifies as fake news or propaganda. But those moderators are going to bring their own biases and preferences to the table with them. Somebody is going to get burned (and “suppressed”) and it’s a safe bet that it will be conservatives, based on Facebook’s recent track record.

I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again. Facebook is basically a giant, digital corkboard with a lot of fancy tools and toys for community members to post things on. The manufacturer of the corkboard isn’t responsible for what random idiots pin to it. Asking them to police what gets posted and make qualitative judgements about the value of the content was always going to turn into a disaster. If you want to hold people accountable for posting fake news or propaganda, let the community hold the account owners accountable. Asking Zuckerberg to do it? This way lies madness.