Four days ago, Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg announced the company would try to improve its news feed to feature "high-quality content." This move was probably a reaction to growing criticism of the company for its role in bamboozling the American public with Russian-sourced hoax stories (e.g. "Pope Endorses Trump") prior to the 2016 election.

Regardless of intent, the implementation is starting with idiocy. To determine which news sources have high-quality content, Facebook has issued (to a random sample of Facebook users) a questionnaire with the following two questions:

  1. Do you recognize the following websites? (Yes/No)
  2. How much do you trust each of these domains? (Entirely/A lot/Somewhat/Barely/Not at all)

The premise of the questionnaire is, of course, the so-called "wisdom of crowds" -- an assumption that in this case the American public--the very public that swallowed all that ridiculous Russian fake news--is capable of knowing what news sources are credible.

The sad truth is the American public, more than any industrialized nation's population, is almost insanely gullible and stupid. The chance they'll be able to correctly differentiate between news sources and propaganda is exactly zero. For perspective, here's a summary of widely held American foolishness:

  • 7 percent think the government faked the moon landing.
  • 12 percent believe GMO crops will kill people.
  • 12 percent believe the CIA injected AIDS into African Americans.
  • 19 percent believe Obama was a Muslim.
  • 20 percent believe aliens landed in Roswell, New Mexico.
  • 20 percent believe in reincarnation.
  • 20 percent believe the sun circles the earth.
  • 20 percent believe vaccines cause autism.
  • 21 percent believe we can communicate with the dead.
  • 22 percent think the world will end during their lifetime.
  • 23 percent believe in witches.
  • 26 percent believe in astrology.
  • 29 percent believe an armed uprising is imminent.
  • 29 percent can't find the Pacific Ocean on a world map.
  • 30 percent believe God dictated the Bible to human scribes.
  • 32 percent believe ghosts can harm living people.
  • 32 percent believe in UFOs.
  • 33 percent can't calculate 1 percent of 50,000.
  • 35 percent think that being gay is a lifestyle choice.
  • 37 percent believe in haunted houses.
  • 37 percent believe the FDA is suppressing a cure for cancer.
  • 40 percent believe in creationism.
  • 41 percent believe in ESP.
  • 42 percent believe in demonic possession.
  • 42 percent believe in ghosts.
  • 47 percent think electrons are larger than atoms.
  • 52 percent think antibiotics can kill viruses.
  • 55 percent believe in psychic healing.
  • 60 percent believe in the devil.
  • 61 percent believe in hell.
  • 61 percent believe the JFK assassination was a conspiracy.
  • 64 percent can't find North Korea on a map.
  • 65 percent can't subtract 25 percent from 8.
  • 65 percent think Ouija boards are dangerous.
  • 71 percent believe in survival of the soul after death.
  • 72 percent believe in angels.
  • 75 percent can't name the three branches of government.
  • 76 percent believe in supernatural events that subvert the natural order.

Please don't think I'm necessarily calling you gullible or stupid because you believe one or more of these things. Heck, I'm pretty sure UFOs exist, since I saw one once. And my tax accountant--a brilliant guy otherwise--is one of the 22 million Americans (i.e. 7 percent) who believe the moon landings were fakes. 

The point here isn't the one or two beliefs--it's the sum total of stuff we believe that is clearly ridiculous, although you and I might disagree on which ones. What Zuckerberg needs to do is bite the bullet, admit the elites know more than the hoi polloi, and select  news sources that do reporting rather that proselytizing.

Published on: Jan 23, 2018
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