It’s no secret that Elon Musk is well loved. He’s been in the press since Peter Thiel’s Confinity bought Elon’s X.com and rebranded it as Paypal before taking it public in 2000. While most people vied for their fifteen minutes of fame, Elon had a solid 18 year press run. This spring, however, has been full of critical press coverage not only about Tesla but also Musk’s leadership of it. A contentious Elon took to Twitter to vent his newfound frustrations with the media. In typical Elon fashion, he made quite a stir in the process.
There’s been reported rumors of union-busting to Bloomberg’s lamentable Tesla progress charts. Some detractors call his visions tall tales and say his companies are teetering on the brink of collapse. ‘Haters gonna hate” though. It’s easy to say that when we see a company consistently operating at a loss, but look at Jeff Bezos who posted loss after loss for years. Now, Amazon is so ubiquitous with e-commerce that there is a self-penned Onion article about Bezos’ pending world domination and he is also the richest man in the world.
Angry, rich and retaliatory or not, Elon is on to something. There’s a problem with the media. Not one to be content with problems, Elon has a solution ready. He calls it Pravda, the Russian word for “truth.” His concept is a site where people can rate the “core truth” of any given article. Over time this would “track the credibility score of each journalist, editor & publication” then display it online for all to see. Crowd-sourced accountability is a viable option for oversight of publicly published information. Still, “core truth” isn’t a very strong attribute to base a credibility score on as truth is, by definition, subjective.
Mark Twain famously said, “there are lies, damned lies and then there are statistics.” An early champion of informational distrust, Twain decries the manipulation of the context in which we are presented data. A political poll or a study done on a hot public health topic can easily be manipulated to control the perception of the issue in the public eye. The thing to remember about truth being subjective is that it’s always been this way. Throughout history facts have been what is societally accepted as true at the time.
The problem now is sifting through all of this information. Whereas our parents read the newspaper every day, we are bombarded with too much information every day via the internet. This is what Elon is talking about. There is simply so much content being released so quickly that it’s basically impossible to give it all a quality edit. We need some kind of system to discourage bad actors and reward quality content providers. While, I don’t think creating China’s social credit system for journalists is the answer, something needs to be done and soon.
Speaking of context, we have to consider the context of the media companies themselves. They’re businesses operating in a capitalist economy. Their job is not only to police the facts but to generate revenue for their company and its shareholders. If we want better information the challenge lies on us.