Facebook has been teasing a massive overhaul to the News Feed - its core product - after widespread, utterly deserved criticism that it had acted as a megaphone for disinformation on an unprecedented scale. Today, CEO Mark Zuckerberg announced how his platform will handle news, and it's quite possibly the stupidest solution imaginable.
"Today I'm sharing our second major update this year: to make sure the news you see, while less overall, is high quality," Zuckerberg wrote, decrying the "sensationalism, misinformation and polarization" that Facebook had an outsized hand in creating. If there's anything we learned from the advent of "fake news" and its spread across social media at alarming rates, it's that most people have abysmal media literacy, and struggle when tasked to separate verified information from hogwash. So what's the fix that Facebook - a massive, profitable company that employs some of the smartest people - chose to pursue?
We could try to make that decision ourselves, but that's not something we're comfortable with. We considered asking outside experts, which would take the decision out of our hands but would likely not solve the objectivity problem. Or we could ask you - the community - and have your feedback determine the ranking.
We decided that having the community determine which sources are broadly trusted would be most objective.
HOLY CRAP, MARK. If people cannot tell truth from garbage, why are those same people being used to rank publications on a scale of trustworthiness?
Granted this gives Facebook a pretty clever excuse when this inevitably backfires - us. If we pick which news sites we think are worthy, then it's on us when NewsInfo.biz claims an asteroid is headed for Christmas Island or the deep state is plotting to put microchips into the water supply.
Maybe we're jumping the gun, though. Facebook might have culled this ranking information in a staid and sensible way. Maybe this isn't as grim, boneheaded and obviously flawed as it seems on its face. Take it away Mark:
Here's how this will work. As part of our ongoing quality surveys, we will now ask people whether they're familiar with a news source and, if so, whether they trust that source. The idea is that some news organisations are only trusted by their readers or watchers, and others are broadly trusted across society even by those who don't follow them directly.
Surveys that, if they're similar to prior surveys regarding publication trust, are almost certain to conclude that partisan coverage is trusted far more than brands such as the Associated Press or Reuters that attempt objectivity.
We look forward to the flood of unverified information and bloodbath of insolvent publications that are sure to follow this brilliant pivot.