“Proposal: A Market for Truth to Address False Ads on Social Media”
Communications of the ACM, July 2020, Vol. 63 No. 7, Pages 23-25
Economic and Business Dimensions
By Marshall W. Van Alstyne
A market for truth need not be perfect. It just needs to be credible and unbiased.
When it comes to political ads on Facebook, anything goes. On Twitter, nothing does. In a speech at Georgetown University last October, Mark Zuckerberg, Facebook’s chief executive, defended the company’s decision not to fact-check political ads on the site. Shortly after, Jack Dorsey, Twitter’s chief executive, tweeted that his company had decided to reject all political advertising. In January of this year, Facebook doubled down on its original decision to accept all political ads no matter how egregious the lies an ad buyer wishes us to believe.
They are both wrong. Facebook pollutes our political discourse. Twitter impoverishes it. Between promoting false ads and rejecting truthful ones, here’s a better way: create a “market for truth.” It requires neither machine algorithms to discern truth nor judgments by a potentially self-interested company. Instead, it discourages liars from lying.
First, ask political advertisers to guarantee their truth. Each politician or PAC that places an ad would put a large sum of money in escrow as an “honest ad pledge” that their claims are true. Second, if anyone disputes the ad, an independent fact-checker would judge the ad’s truthfulness. This role could fall to any one of a number of organizations that routinely make such judgments: FactCheck.org, Politifact, Hoax-Slayer, or Snopes. It could even be a panel sampled randomly from Fox and CNN viewers. The watchword is independence. It cannot be Facebook’s self-appointed Oversight Board and it most emphatically cannot be government.
About the Author:
Marshall Van Alstyne is a Questrom Chair Professor at Boston University where he teaches information economics. He is also a Digital Fellow at the MIT Initiative on the Digital Economy and co-author of the international best-seller Platform Revolution (W.W. Norton).