Why a crowdsourced journalist ranking website is a bad idea
If you haven’t been following the latest antics of Tesla and SpaceX founder Elon Musk, let me help you get up to speed.
Musk recently tweeted his plans to start a crowdsourced credibility ranking of reporters and publications- basically, Yelp for journalists. In a long thread of tweets, Musk denounces “big media companies” in a Trump-like crusade against “fake news”.
At first glance, it seems like a great way to increase transparency and engagement in journalism. In a twitter poll, 88% of those who voted were in favour of the idea.
Ironically enough, Pravda was the title of the official newspaper of the Soviet Communist Party which devolved into a notorious clickbait factory after the Party’s disbandment. The name choice drew a good deal of online scrutiny, and it looks like Musk was serious- according to this Statement and Designation by Foreign Corporation form, one of Musk’s agents had Pravda Corp incorporated in California October 2017. Despite this, Musk insisted the name was a joke, tweeting “I thought it was so obvious”.
Even if Pravda came from a place of good intention and desire to build credibility in media, majority rule isn’t an effective determination of truth. Musk announced his idea for the site in wake of a number of journalists calling into question the work conditions at his factories. Other recent articles have brought attention to missed production quotas, recalls, and the death of a Tesla driver.
Tesla factory workers say the conditions are grueling and accidents are frequent due to Musk’s aggressive production goals. In 2016, SpaceX employees settled a class-action lawsuit on unfair compensation. Other employee allegations include “pervasive harassment”, gender discrimination, ableism, hostility to LGBTQIA employees, and “pre-Civil Rights era race discrimination”.
In an ideal world, Pravda would be a useful tool for the public to cultivate healthier media consumption habits, but Musk’s idea isn’t based on or built in hope of general human integrity. Musk has amassed a huge volume of incredibly loyal followers that are willing to overlook criticism. With such a massive following of idolizing fanboys who are quick to attack anyone who disagrees with his doctrine, Musk’s efforts to shift more journalistic power to the people are a spurned megalomaniac’s desperate attempt cover-up unethical (and possibly criminal) behaviour.
Although Pravda may have a negative effect on journalists and media groups, Musk did bring attention to some common concerns about media bias. We can use this as a valuable opportunity to open a dialogue on the consequences of crowdsourced reporting. Social media has given a voice to those who might not be able to access publishing, resources, or audiences, and citizen-produced content has played important roles in coverage of events such as the Ferguson protests, the Arab Spring, and the Occupy movement. However, they aren’t held to any standard but their own, are bound by no code of ethics, and are often less credible due to lack of fact-checking or verification training and resources.
While citizen journalism is crucial to democracy, public opinion shouldn’t be our sole arbiter of truth. Musk may have some decent ideas, but this isn’t one of them. He can’t save us from the real or perceived dangers of the media.
And Grimes, if you’re reading this- blink twice for help.