A Yale-published study claiming to mirror Facebook’s new methodology for sorting “broadly trusted” news sources from partisan news inadvertently undermines its author’s own advocacy of the methodology by listing far-left sites Salon.com and HuffingtonPost as “mainstream” while packing its “hyper-partisan” category with right-of-center news sources. Politico ran with the headline “GOP voters trust CNN, N.Y. Times over Breitbart, InfoWars.” A more accurate headline would have been “Single Working Paper With Questionable Methodology Shows GOP Voters Trust CNN Over Breitbart.” But that probably would have got them fewer clicks. What the study actually shows, by the authors’ own admission, is that mainstream media sources are most likely to achieve a “broadly trusted” rating by surveyed subjects due to their name recognition, not due to the quality of their journalism. In the study, the authors admit that if Facebook were to sort news on the basis of “trustworthiness” surveys, it would favor established, mainstream outlets and punish new media — because newer, unfamiliar sources are less likely to be trusted. Given the apparent role of familiarity in judgments of trustworthiness, highly rigorous news sources that are less-well known (or that are new) are likely to receive low trust ratings – and thus will have difficulty gaining prominence on social media. Relatedly, it is unclear how the crowdsourcing approach will scale when trying to cover the massive number of outlets which produce news content online, many (perhaps most) of which will be unfamiliar to most raters. Nevertheless, the authors of the study — one of whom recently retweeted a post calling the Nunes memo a “stunt” born from “right-wing fever swamps” that “recklessly breathe life into conspiracy theories.” — claim this is totally fine. In fact, they think Facebook doesn’t go far enough. The problem, according to Rand, is that Zuckerberg has said that Facebook will only count users’ trust ratings for sites that they say they’ve heard of. In other words, if a user’s answer to the first question—do you recognize this website?—is no, their answer to the second question is thrown out. Rand said that broad unfamiliarity with a site can be a good signal that it’s unreliable. After all, “fake news” is often peddled on URL’s that few would have ever heard of. Such an approach would, by the authors’ own admission, favor established, recognizable news outlets and punish newer sites. That includes openly right-wing news sites like Breitbart News, but also anti-establishment voices of the left that are despised by the mainstream, like Glenn Greenwald’s The Intercept. The authors also demonstrate their super-sound judgment and academic objectivity in their list of “mainstream” and “hyper-partisan” news sources.
That, of course, is sarcasm. FaceBook is clearly liberal media. They should at least be honest and open about their bias. Anyway, to see a list, and read the rest of this excellent analysis, click on the text above.