Crowdsourcing Facts – Truth or Truthiness? Does Facebook’s new policy run the risk of conflating majority perspectives with truth?

On 20 January, Facebook announced a new feature that will allow reporting of hoaxes and misleading news.    This new reporting feature is intended to reduce the distribution of such stories, though Facebook emphasizes that the stories will simply be flagged/annotated as having been reported as containing false information.  The stories will not, however, be removed, and Facebook won’t review the content to decide whether it’s accurate or not.

One wonders what the impact of having a story flagged/annotated as having been reported as false will be, especially if the annotation carries with it some indicia of how frequent such reports have been.   It seems likely that the mere knowledge that something has been flagged will be sufficient to trigger skepticism/uncertainty in a reader, with the degree of that skepticism roughly related to the number of reports should that be available. 

Why does this matter?  Well, it’s entirely subjective – there are no guidelines as to what “false” means, and combined with Facebook’s decision not to review the content, it seems likely that posts with contentious subject matter will bear a much higher likelihood of being reported under this system.  What better way to undermine the authority of a report that to have it annotated/identified as somehow false or suspect?  And let’s face it, which perspectives are the most likely to *be* contentious – it seems equally (if not more) likely therefore that the voices and perspectives that are going to be marginalized in this way will not be those of the mainstream white middle-class majority.

I’m NOT advocating for Facebook to take a more active role in reviewing and/or removing stories.  Like many, I’ve watched Facebook’s frustrating inaction when it comes to removing groups and pages that are clearly in contravention of their policies.  This isn’t a cry for Facebook to take on (even nominally) a greater role in policing content.  It is instead an expression of concern – a concern I’ve shared before – concern that mainstream/majority perspectives may be conflated with truth and/or objectivity in such a way that we don’t improve the accuracy of our newsfeeds so much as we homogenize it…