Elon Musk Wanting to Rate Journalists Isn’t Actually a Bad Idea… But How Would It Work?


Elon Musk has been relentless in his criticism of the media over its trustworthiness, a concern that is shared by millions of Americans as polls often show. And last week, he told his roughly 22 million followers that he was going to create a website “where the public can rate the core truth of any article & track the credibility score” of members of the media.

“Pravda,” which is the Russian translation for “truth,” was also the name of  Soviet Russia’s state newspaper.

While many in the media have been giving Musk flack for pursuing such a site, which could very well have been motivated by the negative coverage his company Tesla has gotten lately, perhaps such a site is necessary.

Like the country, the media is heavily divided. Without naming names, you have some outlets that are overly-critical of President Donald Trump and conservatives and you have other outlets who are overly-defensive of the president and are often exclusively critical of Democrats and liberals. And both sides are guilty of either distorting the facts or being flat-out dishonest.

Meanwhile, the vast majority of the American people don’t know which sources are legitimate and credible and which ones are spreading “fake news.” And in an era in which Russia can successfully launch a disinformation campaign on social media, it makes it extremely difficult for people who earnestly want to know the facts from getting them. Musk’s proposed solution is an idea that’s already been floated by Facebook, as part of Mark Zuckerberg‘s efforts to clean up the mess his platform made of the 2016 election with the spread of fake news.

So if Musk were to create a site that rates everyone in the media, how exactly would it work?

First, what needs to be established is who is being rated on this site and who gets to rate them. Musk already suggested journalists, editors, and publications, but in no way should it be limited to them. TV anchors, reporters, and analysts obviously should be included but also opinion hosts, pundits, and columnists. And the outlets that should be rated should be any outlet that presents itself as factual news, no matter how credible they are. That means whether you’re a newspaper like The New York Times or The Washington Post, cable news networks like CNN, MSNBC or Fox News, news sites like Politico, The Daily Beast, The Hill, and Axios, conservative outlets like The Daily CallerNational Review, The Weekly Standard, or The Federalist, liberal outlets like The Huffington PostSlate, Mother Jones, and Salon, partisan media watchdogs like the Media Research Center or Media Matters For America, a local newspaper or news station, and yes, even fringe outlets like InfoWars, The Gateway Pundit, and Daily Kos, you are all included.

You may be asking yourself, “Why on earth is InfoWars included?” They’re included because in order for a site about media’s credibility to be credible itself, it must include all outlets, no matter how credible they are themselves. Like it or not, Infowars has a large audience, and continues to be an influential outlet. If the purpose of the site is to rate the media’s credibility, news outlets that are seen as the least credible should face the ratings system.

And that means every outlet and the people who represent them are being rated, from Jake Tapper, George StephanopoulosMaggie Haberman, Ronan FarrowSean Hannity, Rachel Maddow, to Alex Jones.

Now that we know who is being rated, we need to figure out who’s doing the rating.

If you’ve ever visited Rotten Tomatoes, every film has two scores, one from the critics and one from the audience. For example, Star Wars: The Last Jedi was “certified fresh” with a strong 91% rating among critics, but the audience gave it only 46%. That’s a huge disconnect. So for the purposes of this site, two scores should be set, one made by members of the media and the other made by the general public. Essentially, everyone who is being ranked on the site gets a say and the people consuming the media also has their voices heard.

In order for this site to thrive, it needs to do more than simply rate media outlets and figures. Everyone gets a profile that has basic information listed (company history and viewership/subscriber info for outlets, current position and previous held jobs for individuals). In the profiles, anyone can leave their own “reviews” and visitors can rate the reviews based on their helpfulness. Each profile can list the major stories they broke and corrections/retractions they’ve ever made in their reporting. Anyone who has a profile on the site can customize whether they strictly consider themselves as reporters or commentators. However, both their peers and consumers can vote whether anchors like Anderson Cooper, Don Lemon, Bret Baier, and Chris Wallace are viewed that way. But perhaps the most useful feature in the profile is allowing site users to submit tips as to whether they believe a certain report was inaccurate or untrustworthy. If enough people submit a certain article or news segment, the site can list it on their profile and declare that X number of people have deemed this “inaccurate” or “untrustworthy.” The site itself won’t take a Politifact-like approach and declare something as true or false but rather let the people decide without actually taking a position.

The only problem such a site will face, like every site for that matter, are the trolls and bots that are bound to hijack the rating system. Neither the MAGA crew nor the #Resistance should taint the results of every profile. So maybe the best way to trim the fat is to link users to an e-mail account or a social media account like Facebook or Twitter. Or if Musk really wants to be profitable, make the site free for visitors but have a one-time fee for raters that can range anywhere from $1-$10 as a way to authenticate users. In other words, to prove you’re not a troll or a bot, you would have to put money where your mouth is.

Whether or not Musk follows through, a site that holds the media accountable might help restore the public’s faith in the press. Instead of relying on partisan attacks, we would be able to comprehensively evaluate the work of journalists. And maybe, just maybe, we can help put “fake news” to rest.

[image via Getty]


This is an opinion piece. The views expressed in this article are those of just the author.

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