As disclosed by the Washington Post this morning, Facebook has been ranking users on their trustworthiness in identifying false information—though in a statement to Gizmodo, the platform distanced itself from implications that trust rank is broadly applicable to all facets of the network.
“The idea that we have a centralized ‘reputation’ score for people that use Facebook is just plain wrong and the headline in the Washington Post is misleading. What we’re actually doing: We developed a process to protect against people indiscriminately flagging news as fake and attempting to game the system,” a Facebook spokesperson wrote via email, “The reason we do this is to make sure that our fight against misinformation is as effective as possible.”
Facebook claims the trust rank—which is a decimal score between zero and one—is only applicable to users to who have opted to flag a post as “false news.” Once flagged, Facebook generates a score for the user reporting something as potentially fake, which it stressed, is just one of many signals it uses. In real-world applications, a large number of “trustworthy” users flagging a post might push that post higher in the queue to be reviewed by fact-checkers, but according to a spokesperson, that’s about it.
The example provided to the Post by Facebook product manager Tessa Lyons makes the application of this ranking clear:
“If someone previously gave us feedback that an article was false and the article was confirmed false by a fact-checker, then we might weight that person’s future false-news feedback more than someone who indiscriminately provides false-news feedback on lots of articles, including ones that end up being rated as true.”
Realistically, user feedback can often be low-value—the example Facebook gives is of content being marked as “false” because the reader simply disagreed with it—and this is a relatively easy way to weed out people who spam the reporting function.
Much as Facebook’s public standing has fallen this year, the trust rank does not appear to be the nefarious tool its name implies.