The Crowd is not Wise

For the last several years, there has been a growing trend towards the behavior that mass social media is a source of truth. As recently as May 2018, for example, Elon Musk tweeted:

Going to create a site where the public can rate the core truth of any article & track the credibility score over time of each journalist, editor & publication. Thinking of calling it Pravda …

Let's think about that proposal for a minute. We would vote for truth. As long as at least 51% of the people who participate give something a thumbs-up, it is truth. But what about the people who don't participate? Or the people who have been influenced by bad actors who have used social media to sway opinion? This is mob rule driven by whims and feelings. Some examples:

  • In April 2018, false rumors spread on social media set Buddhist against Muslim in Sri Lanka, resulting in loss of life.
  • In April 2018, a study was published that demonstrated that Americans on all sides are convinced that their side loses more than it wins. Feelings trump facts when the mob rules.
  • In March 2018, a study was published demonstrating that fake news travels faster than real news on Twitter.
  • In February 2018, after the horrible shooting at a high school in Florida, the lie that there had already been 18 school shootings in 2018 spread like wildfire on social media. Even traditional news outlets such as ABC News picked up the false story and ran with it.
More recently, however, the tide seems to have shifted. With more and more revelations about how social media platforms such as facebook were used to manipulate public opinion in the run up to the 2016 presidential election in the US, distrust in social media platforms is rising. And with recent revelations about privacy and increasingly loud calls for regulation of these giant tech companies, it would seem that the crowd might just be getting a bit wiser.