In today’s world of 24/7 news availability as well as the ability of anyone to offer commentary or record what is going on we don’t know quite who to trust. This has led to a rise in fake news and labeling news that one does not agree with as fake news. It has only been fueled by the current administration leaving many people to ask who exactly can I trust to know what is truly going on? Facebook has waded into this amid much controversy with the decision to rate its user’s trustworthiness and many users are not sure that this is a good idea.

In the interests of full disclosure I am a Republican. I did not vote for Trump in 2016 nor did I vote for Clinton.

What is Facebook doing?

As reported by the Washington Post Facebook will begin ratings its user’s trustworthiness on a scale of 0 to 1. The system to do this has been developed over the past year in an attempt to remove the people who push fake news and falsely flag others. Previously Facebook (as well as other social media companies) have depended on user reports to determine false news and to remove non-trustworthy accounts.

Facebook says that this is not a complete rating of a user’s credibility as the user’s trustworthiness is simply one factor out of many other behavioral clues that will help Facebook determine total trustworthiness. What goes into the score has not been made public. Facebook is not the first company to do this as both Twitter and Uber have done this as well but what most people are not happy about the third comparison, China. The Chinese government recently began a pilot program that rates their citizen’s trustworthiness score.

Why do this?

Fake news is all around us. There is no doubt that foreign actors work to interfere with our elections and with our government and much of that is done by spreading fake and misleading news. Some people will believe anything (the word gullible is not in the dictionary after all, don’t believe me, look it up!) and if the information that they see on Facebook is verified to be correct we will all be better off. It should also cut down on false reporting to try to remove real content as well as many of the fake accounts created to do that.

Also by creating a trustworthiness score if false reporting is done because users do not agree with the content for political reasons it will prevent the content from being removed. Facebook forwards posts flagged as false to third-party fact checkers and by providing a score of not only the content poster but also the person flagging it it will help speed the process up. This trustworthiness score will also be used to try to prevent fake accounts used to mass flag content meaning legitimate content will remain and false content will be hidden.

The argument against

Many users cited the criteria for what makes up the score as a reason to be wary. Information is now king in this digital age and the gatekeeper of that information will be able to wield a lot of power (Wasn’t there a Bond movie about that?). Facebook, as well as other social media companies, have already engaged in political censorship and many users, particularly conservatives, fear that this is just another way to silence them especially with the midterm elections only about 2 months away.

Consider this: When Donald Trump remarked about what was going on in Sweden everyone scoffed at him. Every network (except Fox News who had brought the story to light) brought on their Scandinavian expert who said there was nothing going on. Numerous Swedish officials were interviewed basically calling Trump a liar. Within 48 hours riots erupted which proved Trump right and some independant journalists decided to have a look for themselves and what they found was quite the opposite of what the media as telling the world. Would Trump (and his supporters) have had their trustworthiness score downgraded for that remark or for sharing that content? Probably and would that have been corrected when he was proven correct? Would the people who created or shared the rebuttals have been dinged? No one reads the corrections after all. What if the fake news is not fake news at all?

The biggest argument against it is that users will not know what the criteria are (Facebook is deliberately keeping mum on this to prevent manipulation), there is no way to check it and conversely there is no way to dispute it. European Civil Rights groups are complaining that once again Facebook is using its user’s data in a way that it was not intended to be used, which may have legal consequences in the EU with the new GDPR regulations that went into effect.

Fake news is not a left or right issue. Both sides engage in it and have been caught propagating it. Few conservatives though believe that Facebook or other social media platforms will treat them fairly when it comes to this, after all, who watches the watchers in the extremely left leaning Silicon Valley? If Facebook is going to go down this path they will need to do it responsibly and few on the right believe that they will. It could very well lead to many conservatives leaving the platform and finding another. Maybe that is just what Facebook wants and some may cheer that but that will not bring this nation together, it will only continue to drive it apart. When the most apt comparison is to China Facebook is not in good company.

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