In a time when the First Amendment has come under increasing fire, Elon Musk’s proposition to create a media credibility rating site, Pravda, poses a great danger to independent journalism and our democracy as a whole. In a series of tweets, Musk proposed creating “a site where the public can rate the core truth of any article and track the credibility score over time of each journalist, editor, and publication.” Although this idea may seem like common sense, it poses many risks to the free press that may endanger our democracy in the end.
Create a media credibility rating site (that also flags propaganda botnets)
— Elon Musk (@elonmusk) May 23, 2018
For one, a media credibility rating site will usually result in a weapon of math destruction (WMD). For those not acquainted for the term, a weapon of math destruction refers to an algorithm or system that relies on big data to “level the playing field” when in reality, it incorporates human biases to further create inequality in an area of society.
Weapons of math destruction help magnify the biases found naturally in individuals to affect a larger part of society using the power of big data. As high school students, many of us have already seen the negative effects of these WMDs. U.S. News Rankings of our high schools and colleges have created a vicious feedback loop, where the rankings quickly became self-reinforcing.
According to Cathy O’ Neil, “The U.S. News college ranking has great scale, inflicts widespread damage and generates an almost endless spiral of destructive feedback loops.” Schools that are rated highly gain more attention and receive larger and larger talented pools of students while mediocre schools suffer by losing the trust of their local communities as they’re seen as lesser. This WMD is even partially responsible for the skyrocketing of tuitions. Elon Musk’s Pravda, however, could be even more devastating to our society by attacking the independence of our free press.
While Musk maintains that Pravda is meant a credibility check, intended to maintain unbiased news, I have no doubts that it will instead wreak havoc by allowing the cultural war to seep into our newsrooms. Elon Musk admitted himself that a portion of the public will willfully ignore the credibility score, but more dangerously, “the journalists, editors, and publications will. It is how they define themselves.”
When buildings and colleges allowed themselves to define themselves based off of ratings, it was disastrous to many fine and so-called safe schools. Pravda poses a greater danger because the more national attention a media outlet draws, the more people will challenge it and attack it as biased. This will lead to a lower credibility rating which will affect the ability of that media outlet perform. Hypothetically, local media outlets would also be hit hard since many editorials often heavily lean towards a certain bias held by that market. Under careful scrutiny, people will change their behavior. However, because people are the ones rating the media outlets, it’s more likely than not, that the ones who will use Pravda will be more partisan encouraging partisan outlets to be more partisan to receive a “credibility” boost from their supporters. This in no way will decreases biases, but will rather catalyze political polarization. Political polarization threatens to tear our country apart and when we are not willing to overlook our “tribal affiliation” our democracy suffers.
Furthermore, Musk complains of the “holier-than-thou hypocrisy of big media companies” but ironically fails to acknowledge the holier-than-thou approach he is undertaking with Pravda. Simply because he does not like his personal media coverage, he shouldn’t assault the free press.
My solution to Musk would be to offer an official apology to the media at large, but seeing that it’s rather difficult for billionaires to put aside their egos, I simply hope that both the mainstream media and alternative media outlets will disregard Pravda and encourage their consumers to put little important to the credibility score assigned by the partisans of America. Investors should be aware of Musk’s media attacks and the media must prepare to prove the American audience that they are actively working to maintain their independence as a check on individuals, businesses, groups, and even the American government.