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Monday, January 22, 2018


Facebook "users" will determine what news is "trustworthy"

Here's the statement from Facebook explaining their plans to restrict news in your news feed based on its "trustworthiness".
Starting next week, we will begin tests in the first area: to prioritize news from publications that the community rates as trustworthy.

How? We surveyed a diverse and representative sample of people using Facebook across the US to gauge their familiarity with, and trust in, various different sources of news. This data will help to inform ranking in News Feed.

We’ll start with the US and plan to roll this out internationally in the future.
There are three fundamental problems with this. First and foremost is the overall idea that Facebook is going to, by whatever means, restrict what we see in our news feeds based on anything other than the friends we choose to have, the organizations we choose to follow, and what those friends and organizations choose to post. It is of course true that FB already controls our news feed, supposedly on the basis of our own actions (e.g., if we like the posts from a particular friend frequently, they'll make sure to prioritize showing us their posts). But this new proposal goes one serious step beyond that.

The second problem is this idea of a "diverse and representative sample". Even assuming that they have somehow chosen such a "diverse and representative sample", 99% of their sample group are unlikely to be familiar with the output of RT (to pick the obvious example), so if people were to answer honestly, their survey might say that only 1% of their test group thinks RT is a "trustworthy" source. The other 99% won't really be familiar with RT at all, except for the fact that they've been told over and over again that RT is a subversive Russian agent, so they'll be able to answer yes to the "are you familiar" question and then rate it as untrustworthy.

Or consider FOX News. If FB's sample is representative, 35% of their respondents will say it is trustworthy and 65% will say it isn't. That will be a very high untrustworthy rating, so will FB deal with that by banning FOX News? I seriously doubt it.

The third problem is the fundamental nature of judging a news source "untrustworthy". Donald Trump repeatedly refers to "the fake news New York Times" (and others). But obviously 99% of what is printed in the New York Times is absolutely, indisputably true. So as a source the New York Times is trustworthy. But by no means does that mean that every article in the New York Times is trustworthy (check for Judith Miller bylines if you're not clear on that). So judging a source "trustworthy" or "untrustworthy" is completely meaningless. And the FB system doesn't allow for judging particular articles.

I like the headline from a Forbes opinion piece on the subject: "Facebook's Continued Quest To Make 1984 A Reality: Deciding What News Is 'Trustworthy'".

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