—Artificial intelligence, or AI, is called artificial for a good reason. Facebook made that point last week by ending its attempt to rely heavily on software algorithms to select news items for its 2 billion users. It announced Jan. 19 that the Facebook “community” will be asked to rank news outlets by their trustworthiness.
This reader feedback will promote “high quality news that helps build a sense of common ground” in a world with “so much division,” said chief executive Mark Zuckerberg. The first surveys have started in the United States and will soon expand to other countries. The company plans to include the local news outlets of users in its surveys.
Like many digital platforms that act as news providers, Facebook had great faith in a belief that programmed electrons in computer servers can discern qualities of thought such as trust, fairness, and honesty. Even in respected newsrooms, however, these traits of character require constant upkeep among journalists and, yes, feedback from paying customers. Good judgment on news relies on orders of consciousness beyond what a machine can do.
Rather than move toward becoming a hands-on gatekeeper of news, Facebook now hopes its “diverse and representative” sampling of users can lead to a ranking of news outlets – and that would bring a measure of objectivity in its news feed.
The company may be in the news business but it has chosen to outsource news credibility to the collective wisdom of individuals and their ability to distinguish truth from falsehood.
In other words, if people choose to be self-governing, they will also demand accurate knowledge from media.
By placing its trust in people as seekers of truth, Facebook could earn greater trust from its users. This is a lesson for many companies, especially digital platforms or those in the media business. According to the latest survey of trust in institutions worldwide by Edelman communications firm, “media has become the least-trusted institution for the first time,” more so than other businesses or government.
Edelman’s survey of 28 countries also offers this insight: “A majority of respondents believe that news organizations are overly focused on attracting large audiences (66 percent), breaking news (65 percent), and politics (59 percent).”