Jake Banks | 17 Sep 2018

Facebook judges your movementsCan you remember a time when you didn’t share everything happening in your life on Facebook? If you can’t, don’t worry, you’re definitely not alone. But it’s fair to say that while the social networking site is still, for many people, a way to keep up with friends and family and to share personal events, it has also mushroomed into much more.

The platform was first accused of allowing fake news on its site after the shock of the 2016 United States elections, when Donald Trump was voted in as President. In September 2017 the company admitted that it had allowed a Russian propaganda mill to place false advertisements during the elections, which had swayed voters.

Following a few failed attempts to control for fake news, third-party fact-checkers were introduced. The goal has been to identify hoaxes, and then to give them less prominence in the newsfeed so that they are not so widely seen. But as fake news continues to be problematic, and Facebook is still under scrutiny, a more economical and effective solution is needed. That’s where the idea of the trustworthiness scale comes in.

Facebook’s Trustworthiness Scale

The company has confirmed that it has developed this scale as a way of determining how trustworthy a person who is reporting false news is. The scale is from 0 to 1, which suggests it is based on probability calculations.

Essentially, individuals will be scored based on how likely they are to report an error – in other words, how likely they are to say something is fake news when it is actually true. Since part of the way the site deals with fake news is to have users report it, this makes sense. So far, so egalitarian, right?

Not so fast. Critics of the system have issues with the fact that it is unclear who exactly will be rated, and what the specifics are of the algorithms that will go into determining the score.. For a lot of people, it’s a lot more like so far, so Black Mirror.

Connections to the Black Mirror Netflix series, which details how dystopian a society that depends too heavily on technology could become, have inevitably been drawn – ironically enough, on Twitter, another huge social media platform. But it has to be said, these comments are understandable. Is everything we post eventually going to be rated? And if that does happen, how would it affect our lives?

The fake news phenomenon The Scale Could Be Good or Evil

Being able to trust the content that we see on social media, from presidential scandals to the latest news from a casino online, is a terrific goal. But it is very important to weigh up the cost. In the wake of Cambridge Analytica and other data mining scandals, Facebook really needs to be transparent about how it is using people’s personal information.

Checking credibility in itself is not a bad thing, though we should also be able to use common sense. Way before social media there were false stories being published, and there’s a reason that the old adage of not believing everything you read is so widespread. When you don’t know what is going into your rating, however, things start to get a little sketchy. Think about how different that is to checking your easily understandable credit score.

And, as critics point out, we need to watch that we don’t fall too far down a slippery slope. The social credit system currently being piloted in China, which scores your online and offline behavior and can affect everything from your rent to your employment prospects, is terrifying for many people. Facebook scores could very easily be applied to a similar policy in your area.

The platform claims to be people-centric, and its intentions with the trustworthiness scale may well be pure. Time will tell, but we’d better hope so – the actions of a force as big as Facebook can only be resisted by ordinary people for so long.