30 January 2018

BuzzFeed News: “Facebook’s Bad Idea: Crowdsourced Ratings Work for Toasters, but not News”

Consumer reviews of products like toasters work because we have direct experience using them. Consumer reviews of news sources don’t work because we can’t personally verify the facts from direct experience; instead, our opinions of news are driven by strong emotional attachments to underlying sociopolitical issues. Put simply, our research shows that we’ll trust anyone to be objective about their kitchen appliances, but when it comes to news, we want experts who can verify the facts.

Second, user ratings are easily manipulated. We rely on online reviews, but research shows that 15-20% of online reviews are fake. Fake reviews are more common on websites that don’t verify whether the user has actually used the product or service. Zuckerberg said that Facebook would only accept ratings from users who say they are familiar with the news sources they are judging, but the honor system, while logical, won’t stop fake reviews.

Alan Dennis, Antino Kim & Tricia Moravec

Facebook has been struggling with its fake news problem for over a year, but apparently they still haven’t got a clue how to fix it. Their latest idea: just make people vote on what they think are reliable news sources. Never mind that this so-called solution raises more questions than it answers; personally, I fail to understand how this proposal is any different than the way News Feed algorithms selected news items until now. Instead on implicitly guessing your opinions and political attachments (by analyzing likes and reactions to previous posts and links), Facebook wants to ask people to list them explicitly… What could possibly go wrong?

Some measures against fake news are quite simple and obvious. Check, for example, the age of the domain where the article is published. Newer sites could simply be content farms, created for clicks and advertising revenue, not legitimate news sources, so they should be quietly down-ranked until they can be checked and vetted.

Ultimately, it’s not a lack of ideas that keeps Facebook from solving the issue, but rather their own unwillingness to take responsibility and act in a way that may end up hurting revenues and alienating some user groups.

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