Hey, maybe it will work? Credit - public domain

An alternative title to this could be my, how quickly the blogs became absorbed into the establishment.

Elon Musk is getting tired of people doubting that Telsa really is going to make all those cars before it goes bust. I’m neutral on the subject (meaning, there’s going to have to be a capital raise) but in the course of his displeasure he floats an idea:

In the resulting tweetstorm — which ricocheted around the internet like a bullet in a cartoon — Musk floated the idea of founding a crowdsourced site called Pravda, which would, in Musk’s words, let “the public […] rate the core truth of any article & track the credibility score over time of each journalist, editor & publication.”

Well, that’s pretty much what any of us do anytime we read anything at all. We all know by now that Monbiot is often wrong but right often enough still to be interesting. That Jessica has only ever met misogyny in her life, presumably the mistake of thinking that all us men hate women instead of her. That Owen is a gifted pamphleteer and the world will be a better place when he finds a worthwhile cause. We know all of these things simply because we’re human. That’s what we do. We evaluate information and its source then assign a valuation to the source given the information.

There really are biologists out there who will insist that it is this which makes us human. Language and that big brain developed as a result of our doing just these things, the spiral being that the better we got at it the more children survived and thus evolution.

So, there’s nothing wrong with the idea itself. Just a more formal method of what it is human to do.

Ah, but, you see, there is something wrong with it:

Though its aim is different, Musk’s Pravda — if brought into existence — will do a similar thing. He accurately notes that trust in the media is at an all-time low and that people don’t believe what they read in the news anymore — which, by the way, is the whole point of propaganda: not to misinform but to undermine belief in the existence of a shared reality — but he is entirely wrong about the solution. The way to restore trust in the media (which I’m generously assuming is the goal) is not to turn the definition of truth over to a mob.

Pravda is insidious precisely because it would allow its users — or at least its loudest ones — to redefine truth. It would be easy to manipulate because it ignores every lesson we’ve learned about the internet. First, we know that people online have different opinions than people who don’t spend all day on the internet, and the results of an internet poll may not signify the opinions of a majority of Americans.

We cannot allow people to apply their own estimations of reliability because that would allow for BadThink, d’ye see?

No, really:

We also know that places like 4chan exist, and we know they organize to mob online polls or review bomb movies and games to sabotage them and make certain ideologies — like, say, excluding women and people of color from media — seem more mainstream. Similarly, we know how difficult it is to make systems resistant to sufficiently motivated review bombers. Online mobs spring up at the slightest provocation, and teenagers have all the time in the world. Bots are another problem. They have inhuman stamina and are even better at performing repetitive tasks, like fraudulently voting in polls or posting political propaganda to Twitter.

This should be common knowledge to anyone who’s lived online for any time at all, including anyone who lived through Gamergate (a group of conspiracy theorists who decided to build a reality where they believed they were investigating “ethics in games journalism” that only happened to harass many women off the internet), Comicsgate (the same thing, only with comics), or incels (“involuntarily celibate” men who feel entitled to sex and have literally killed people over it). It shouldn’t be unfamiliar to Musk, unless he has been too ensconced in his personal bubble of wealth and tech optimism to see it.

What links these toxic online movements — along with the Sad Puppies, Jordan Peterson devotees, MAGA chuds, and so forth — is the way that each one uses internet echo chambers to manipulate reality and undermine the veracity of any sources that conflict with them. After living in these poisoned spaces, people also become susceptible to other distortions.

Yes, BadThink!

This is all from The Verge and really the only question now is when did blogs become the establishment? For this is exactly that Pauline Kael point, but I don’t know anyone who voted for Nixon. Or, I’m so far inside the establishment bubble, even as the writer for a mid level tech blog, that I cannot conceive of people having other ideas, ideas which might even be right?

No, I’m not saying that Sad Puppies and the rest are. But the insistence is that they cannot be because, well, because they don’t think like the writer at The Verge.

We can’t have crowd sourcing because the crowd would be sourcing and expressing their opinions! Don’t they realise they should believe what we tell them?

All most reminiscent of the Guardian’s OpEd pages really, isn’t it?

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  1. Doesn’t the public already have a say on the viability or not of Mr. Musk’s products? They have a choice whether or not to buy, whether to pay a deposit, whether to invest, so yes they do and it’s a revealed preference.
    Mr Musk’s idea is to get people without skin in the game to talk his products up- in the hope of persuading more people to pony up. It will have an effect but not a great one.
    As to the critique of Pravda that you quote, it could be summed up as “I am the way, the truth and the light”. Fortunately for the author that religion is no longer protected by blasphemy laws.

  2. I keep getting told that diversity is a good thing and must be praised, yet whenever I go to a party meeting and express the diverse opinion that giving non-adults the adult right to vote is illiberal, or that remaining in the EU is highly inequitable, or ignoring a democratic vote is non-democratic, I get shouted down.

  3. Musk’s idea here seems to be based on the fact there’s a ton of Musk fanboys out there who will talk it up.

    At this point, I’d read this as a desperate attempt to discredit people pointing out his problems. It might keep a little more investment money rolling in.

    The problem is that fundamentally, Tesla are a bad business. They’re a niche car maker valued at $46bn and they make less cars than Maserati* who are thought to be worth about $4bn. And I know everyone thinks they’re the future, but the minute that someone makes a battery with good range that can fit in a Mondeo or a 3 Series, companies like Toyota, BMW and Ford will be all over it. Half a dozen companies already have plug-in hybrids for sale. BMW, Nissan and Renault already make fully electric cars.

    * and FFS a £70K Tesla looks like a Hyundai. If you want to get your wing-wang squeezed by a teenage lovely while travelling at 100mph, you’re going to have more luck with the Maserati.

  4. Tesla doesn’t advertise. That’s because up till now Elon’s had mostly positive free advertising from the bandwagon press, and now the bandwagon’s going in the opposite direction their credibility is a problem.

  5. There is a difference between blogging that Tesla will need a capital infusion and blogging that George Bush doesn’t care about black people. But bring ’em all on, and let us all sort them out. (As individuals. Try to control this process and you have Facebook relying on the Southern Poverty Law Center for “self-censorship,” a group that has not marked the Episcopal Church as a hate group only because they have trouble with long words.)

    As for the assertion that the “whole point of propaganda [is] not to misinform but to undermine belief in the existence of a shared reality,” no, the point is to misinform. I don’t believe I share any aspects of reality (beyond, say, the reality of operating the microwave oven) with Colin Kaepernick. Nor will, unless I were misinformed that joining in to disrespect the flag at the start of an NFL game is a valid alternative to seeking out the facts.

    And yes, it seems stark to me, too, that this essay on bad and manipulative journalism excludes the Guardian itself, and its columnist.