Note the rapid rise in traffic leading up to the US election of a particularly non-credible “news” site, run by a 24 year old in Romania (traffic approximated via Alexa ranking).

How to fix our news ecosystem

Step 1: Acquire more data! (attention metrics & credibility scores)

The news industry is hemorrhaging money and attention. Specifically the credible part of the news industry is failing—the part that sometimes pays people to do actual reporting, and publishes with the intent to inform readers (the part that aims to outrage or mislead is doing fine).

Imagine you work at Facebook and are experimenting with changes to the news feed. You know that currently it rewards sensationalist misinformation over sensible accuracy, so one of your goals is to reward quality and accuracy over clickbait and misinformation.

Sure, there are some things to try that might help a bit. But how do you know if those changes are actually having an impact?

Critical questions

Here are three key questions that we have to answer if we want to resuscitate our media ecosystem.

  1. How quickly is this getting worse? (if at all?)
  2. What publishers, platforms, and other stakeholders are the worst actors? (and how can they be held accountable and incentivized to change?)

The missing data

If we want to get the pulse of the media ecosystem — if we want to answer those three questions—we need to know how much of the content being consumed accurately informs the public. Breaking that down, we need data on two crucial things:

  1. The accuracy of that content.

The status quo

The Observatory on Social Media at Indiana University uses this list to figure out which websites are suspicious enough to track:

Linked from the FAQ for the Hoaxy project at the Observatory on Social Media at Indiana University

We can do better

We do a much better job for credit scores, or choosing which businesses or charities to support. We can also do it for news.

Founder of the Thoughtful Technology Project & GMF non-res fellow. Prev Tow fellow & Chief Technologist @ Center for Social Media Responsibility.

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