Elon Musk is creating a website where “…the public can rate the core truth of any article & track the credibility score over time of each journalist, editor & publication,” as he said in a tweet.
Interestingly enough, he plans on naming it Pravda.
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 …
— Elon Musk (@elonmusk) May 23, 2018
When we hear the name Pravda, we think of many things; for Russian speakers, this means “The Truth”, however, it was also the name of a famous Soviet newspaper, which has survived in various successor forms. For example, Komsomolskaya Pravda, who wrote an article (in Russian) about Musk’s idea of the site.
Musk also created a poll, asking people to vote as to whether or not they felt this was a good and useful idea, and so far, according to RIA Novosti, 88% of the 68 thousand asked, supported the creation of Pravda.
Musk said the site should not only have protection from bots, but also work to expose anyone who uses them for misinformation. While we know little about the purposed site, based on the description, it seems to be highly community based, where people essentially “rate” as he said, articles, journalists, editors, publications, etc. This could possibly be similar to how Reddit is karma based, though on a much higher level, with “the public” leaving reviews of articles and those who publish them.
This is perhaps the most important aspect of his announcement, in this age of fake news, the idea of the public rating the “truth” of an article. This is an issue perfectly captured in RIA Novosti’s headline describing his idea, which said in Russian “Everyone has his own Pravda (Truth)”. The double entendre of the word Pravda in Russian made the headline so poetic, and so powerful in revealing the major implications of this website. Before we jump into these implications, it is worth noting something interesting about the word Pravda, that non-Slavic speakers may not understand.
While the word does indeed mean “Truth” in Russian, it can also have the connotation of meaning “Law” (which is technically Zakon), for example, Russkaya Pravda, the earliest code of Laws in Rus’ (which was far more progressive than western laws for its day, even outlawing capital punishment in the High Middle Ages). The word can also mean in a classical sense Justice, and Righteousness as well.
This is because, in the West, its understood that just as religion is separate from the state, and the individual from the collective; there is the notion that the law, in its current form may not necessarily be what is right or true. To the Russian Orthodox Soul, this is ridiculous. It does not mean Russians can’t recognize if this is a reality, but deep down, it’s hard for Russians to understand how the Law should not be Just or Right. This is because if Russians believe that which is right, should be law, and is always based on truth, and likewise, if something is wrong, whether morally, spiritually, or literally, it must ultimately be based on lies. It is interesting to take a moment and observe this difference in Russian mentality about the word “Truth”, and compare it to the western one, where Justice, Truth, and Righteousness are seen as three distinct things.
The issue with Elon Musk’s Pravda, however, is just as the RIA Novosti headline described it.
Everyone always has his own truth. As we have seen in recent years, with the unprecedented battles throughout the entire world over “fake news”, what is true, and what is fake has become not only blurred, but highly contested in fierce battles between states and leaders.
What often happens is when one side does not like what the other is saying, they accuse them of spreading “fake news’. While the idea of lying is quite ancient, the new focus on “Fake News” is different, as both states and mega-companies like Facebook, which essentially control as much private information as states, are cracking down on what they perceive to be fake news.
Elon Musk notably came into his own conflict with Facebook about the massive scandal over how they handle their user’s data. He shocked everyone when deleted his Facebook accounts. Bare in mind, alternative media was reporting on what Facebook has been doing for years, however, until recently, it was branded mostly as conspiracy theories. Now that the truth is out, there are, of course, no apologies.
Love him or hate him, no one can deny Musk is very powerful, and he has proven he can achieve amazing things; he’s one of the few people that can seemingly turn any random idea into instant success – his track record speaks for itself.
As a result, we should be aware that if his previous record of success continues, and he develops this website, it will almost certainly become a big deal, and therefore, it’s worthy of our attention.
And so this brings us back to Pravda. As RIA Novosti said, everyone has their own Pravda, everyone has their own truth. It’s the age we live in. The biggest concern is if everyone has their own truth – which truth will be represented at Pravda.
Fake news is everywhere, and the average person is not an expert on every subject. We’ve seen time and time again how fake news is most commonly believed by uninformed people. Fake news is often so successful due to the general ignorance of the population about the subject in question.
Take for example the Ukraine Crisis; an article at the Washington Post found that less than 20% of Americans could locate Ukraine on the map, and the least informed among them (those who could not find it) was the group which most strongly supported military intervention in Ukraine.
About one in six (16 percent) Americans correctly located Ukraine, clicking somewhere within its borders. Most thought that Ukraine was located somewhere in Europe or Asia, but the median respondent was about 1,800 miles off … locating Ukraine somewhere in an area bordered by Portugal on the west, Sudan on the south, Kazakhstan on the east, and Finland on the north….The less people know about where Ukraine is located on a map, the more they want the U.S. to intervene militarily.“
This would also imply these uninformed people, who couldn’t locate the nation, yet somehow felt their country should start a war there, believed the lies about a “Russian invasion”. They certainly can’t speak Ukrainian and/or Russian, or know anything about the culture for that matter. This is the issue with crowdsourced fact-checking. If the fact checkers are the general populace, they may be capable of speaking as to what is happening right before their eyes, but how are they informed enough to fact check stories about events in a distant country?
The public cannot be expected to be an expert on every subject. This is why there is no such thing, and likely never will be, an absolute direct democracy, where all matters are decided on by the people. Almost every form of large-scale human government and organization has a dedicated class of leaders. In Monarchies, the Sovereign is believed to be appointed by God, in representative democracies and republics, the people vote to elect leaders, who then represent them and make decisions on their behalf.
Even under the officially communist Soviet Union, and other socialist states, which had the official the goal to make all working people equal, it is still accepted there must be a dictatorship of the proletariat, to guide the people on the way to achieving communism. Without getting into a debate on the meaning and forms of Democracy, the fact remains, there is no practical system in which a majority vote can decide all matters.
One the one hand, it can lead to dangerous ochlocratia (Mob rule), in which there exists a tyranny of the majority, for example, 51% of the population voting to deprive the other 49% of their rights. On the other hand, individuals simply can not be considered capable of making high-level decisions on all major issues.
This is why we have doctors to help us with issues of our physical health, Clergymen to help us with our spiritual health, a military to defend us, economic experts to advise on these matters, lawyers on to council on legal issues, etc. So for example, continuing with the Ukraine crisis, say there is an article speaking about the major persecution of the canonical Orthodox Church occurring in Ukraine.
If people who believe the fake news about a “Russian invasion” hear the story, and find the Church belongs to the Moscow Patriarchate, they may assume the so-called Kiev Patriarchate is the legal Ukrainian church, whereas the former is under Russian influence. They may assume any news in favor of a Ukrainian Orthodox Church “of the Moscow Patriarchate”, must be biased in favor of Moscow, and so they can vote on the story as fake news.
These people are not clergymen or educated lay people, aware of the fact that the Church under Moscow is the only Orthodox Church in Ukraine which is recognized by the international Orthodox community, and supported by the majority of Ukrainians, as shown in this comparison below. They’re also not lawyers practicing Ukrainian law, and they don’t understand what is legal or not in Ukraine. How then, are they qualified to speak on issues in Ukraine, or Syria, or any distant country.
This is a potential danger of having the public vote on the truth of articles. It could be a good idea, but the scrutiny of a court of law could easily be thrown out in favor of a court of public opinion. Case in point, there was a very interesting poll by the very popular comment site Disqus, which we use on Duran (feel free to say hello in the comments and I will try to reply).
Disqus created a (now closed) poll, that asked users across all the many sites which use their comment service why they choose to downvote comments (Disqus users can upvote or downvote comments).
Here are the most common reasons Disqus observed about why people downvote comments:
- The comment does not contribute to the discussion
- You disagreed with the comment
- You don’t like the user
- You think the comment should appear lower in the discussion thread
The most common reason they found, for why people downvote, is that they disagree with the comment.
While this is not definitive, as they could disagree because they think a comment is factually wrong, they could also disagree simply because they don’t like it. Very often, in this era of fake news, humans make decisions as to what they believe and what they don’t, based on their preexisting biases.
Many don’t actually listen to hear all the viewpoints and make their own decision, but they enter into a story with a preconceived notion of what they believe, and they are essentially listening to confirm their biases. If they don’t agree with what they hear, they will label it as fake news. As a result, not only can the general public be misinformed, but they can also downvote a story simply because they don’t agree with it, considering their feelings to be the truth.
The idea purposed by Elon Musk may require a group of professional fact checkers, in addition to the public voting. This would ironically be not unlike Facebook, who announced they would work with “Third Party Fact Checkers” on news stories. Musk’s Pravda could face the same issues, as FB’s program, which allowed the mainstream media to fact-check themselves.
If one has no issue with the narratives pushed by the corporate media, this may not be an issue for them, but for those who consider the corporate media to be a key source of Fake News, this is naturally an issue. The “anti-fake” website could become subject to mob rule, where people vote based on their opinions rather than facts, and curated by the same people pushing the fake news.
Of course, there is also the biggest elephant in the room, given the name, is Pravda about obtaining the truth, or will it be another mainstream site directed against Russia and “Russian hackers”, as part of the general #Russia-gate story?
While the idea of Pravda could potentially be great, there can be major concerns with the execution. In all honesty, it will hinge on what Elon Musk specifically feels about the issue of fake news, and where it’s coming from. Everyone has their own “truth”, but the only one that will matter in on this website, is Musk’s.