Elon Musk, CEO of Tesla, SpaceX, The Boring Company and most real-world science fiction endeavors, has a new brainchild. He wants to have the public vote on the credibility of news sources on a new social capital platform he’s calling 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
This proposal hit twitter Tuesday after media started reporting on a letter to the Federal Trade Commission from consumer groups arguing that the marketing around Tesla’s “Autopilot” feature erroneously leads customers to believe the cars are self-driving. This has contributed to two deaths.
Tesla has also been under fire in recent days for dangerous working conditions that have given Tesla the dubious distinction of having workplace injuries at a rate double the industry average.
Just before proposing Pravda, Musk called the media “holier-than-thou” and said that journalists just publish enough fact to “sugarcoat the lie”, and linked to an article claiming that coverage of Tesla was “increasingly immaterial.”
But Pravda is far from a whim caused by today’s bad press. Musk has been assembling the company since at least October, and confirmed to Gizmodo that it will be his next project following the Model 3.
If a lot of this sounds unoriginal, that’s because it is. Pravda is named after a Soviet newspaper that still exists (and might have something to say about that name, Elon). And the concept has been done before as well, by right-wing sex cultists.
The Knife Media, formerly The Knife of Aristotle, was built to rate articles from everything — the Times of India to the Wall Street Journal – on metrics of “logic,” “slant,” and “spin.” These articles were then given a “total article value.” It was also built to be a leg of NXIVM — the sex cult that Smallville actress Allison Mack helped enslave people for.
Writing for Paste in 2017, reporter Brock Wilbur published an investigative piece that linked the Knife with NXIVM and spent nearly a year conducting an exhaustive investigation of the cult and the Knife.
“I can feel my brain on fire,” Wilbur told Grit Post. “I truly have never taken an issue with Musk before. He says a lot of crazy things but also NASA doesn’t exist in any form that might get us to Mars, so he is our best bet. But lately his rants about pointless things he’s going to make happen are starting to negatively change the world, even if he’s not going to do them.”
Wilbur characterized Pravda as a crowdsourced version of the Knife, operating on the same principles. And while there wasn’t much substance to the Knife other than being a weird offshoot of a sex cult, Musk is suggesting… well, he’s suggesting Reddit.
“There’s an ethics/truth scale that (somehow) can be applied to all journalism. It’s stupid/flawed as all hell, because it presumes that a single outside person can rate the truth-iness of any subject via a set of principles that… are vague at best?” Wilbur continued. “Musk is suggesting a crowdsourced version of that, which is just Reddit. How do you rank the truth of an article using the metric of… a country full of completely partisan readers? Fuck man, just call it Facebook.”
The Reddit comparison draws attention to Reddit’s flaws, and therefore Pravda’s flaws. Online platform abuse specialist Kat Lo pointed to that same comparison in her response to Musk’s proposal, which she said would not only fail to be a bastion of truth and clarity but would make it easier to obfuscate what is real. Especially if little is done to prevent the influence of bots.
As if many institutions & major tech companies haven’t been working on these problems for a while— you can see with reddit that rating by voting from the public makes it vulnerable to online manipulation. This is just going to become a vector for more abuse & misinformation. https://t.co/kWCYlugnug
— Kat Lo (@lawlkat) May 23, 2018
“It’s an attack on the Fifth Estate and its goddamned pointless to boot. 4chan already exists, Elon,” said Wilbur. “Everyone seems to be suddenly shooting for the middle, and seeing Musk do it is disappointing at best. Just light a joint and watch more Rick and Morty, dude.”
Katelyn Kivel is a contributing editor for Grit Post in Kalamazoo, Michigan. Follow her on Twitter @KatelynKivel.