How an Algorithm Might Reverse the Crisis of Trust in the Media

Fake news. Fakebook.

It’s gotten beyond absurd. The damage being done by fake news – “news” that is shared as truth, regardless of the veracity of its contents – is having a massive impact on our society. Businesses, non-governmental organizations, governments and the media around the world all have one thing in common: declining public trust.

To try to combat the problem of viral fake news, Facebook released their 10 tips for spotting it last month, a rather lightweight bit of “lipstick on the pig,” as Dominic Mills explains. His reaction to that ad, he writes in Mediatel this week, was “a bit of scorn, some cynicism, derision…and a giggle.”

“This is a PR-friendly, sticking-lipstick-on-a-pig exercise to prove to the powers-that-be that Facebook takes the fight against fake news seriously,” Mills writes. “It’s saying ‘Please please Big Government, don’t regulate us and just because we run an ad like this don’t confuse us with proper media owners’.”

The solution lies not in this kind of band-aid approach. If Facebook really wanted to alleviate the problem (a problem, for what it’s worth, that they hold enormously culpability for fostering), they could do so in two ways, according to Mills.

First, create an algorithm that prioritizes trusted content sources, which could result in a “T” core (for “Trust”). “And if Facebook is looking for clues how to do this, it could do worse than start with its 10 tips for spotting fake news,” he notes.

Second, he recommends that FB actually pay properly for publisher-created content.

“That could create a virtuous circle, and the likes of the Guardian and the New York Times, which pulled out because they were getting zip for all their content, might recommit to Instant Articles,” Mills continues.

What would all of this do for magazine media? It would go a long way toward rebuilding trust – something this sorely lacking not just in media, but in organizations and institutions of all kinds lately. And this idea of a Trust Quotient, a term coined by Hearst UK’s CEO James Wildman, could guide clients and agencies in deciding, in a fact-based way, where to place their ads.

“Trust in government, trust in business, trust in the media, client trust in agencies, trust in the platforms…it’s slipping away,” Mills insists. “It needs to be repaired, and one place to start is in the media, which is both the foundation of a healthy society and a healthy ad economy.”

It’s a start.