Craig Newmark on "whuffie," news, and power

Craigslist founder Craig Newmark is thinking out loud about "whuffie," a concept he picked up from fellow Boinger Cory Doctorow's books. Snip:
[P]ower and influence will shift dramatically to the people and groups with the best reputations and largest networks. The power and influence landscape in 2020 will look very different from now.

I feel this applies to media, and that the media landscape at that point will reflect those flows of power and influence. Among news organizations, the successful survivors will be the ones that build a culture of trust, largely by checking facts, and not tolerating disinformation. The good news is that we already see the first signs.

regarding "Trust, Factchecking, and the News Media Landscape To Come



  1. This sounds cool as a concept. Looking at the news-tainment landscape today, I can’t help but notice that ratings go to the ones providing hyper-partizan audience-tailored knee-jerk sensationalist crap.

    There’s a larg(er) demographic whose reason to read news/watch television is far from getting quality information and much closer to feeling scared, triumphal or right(eous).

    So, I’d say, whoever offers the biggest bloodiest colliseum, wins.

    1. I have to agree with andreinla. One thing that I have figured out is that the channels to provide non-factual and opinion “hyper-partizan audience-tailored knee-jerk sensationalist crap.” are much more developed.

      It is often not in the best interests of powerful groups and corporations to have the facts checked. In fact, a tremendous amount of money is spent to throw doubt into facts.

      1. I think Craig’s point is that a sufficiently large trust network can mitigate whatever FUD the powerful can purchase. Essentially, trust is a currency that the current corporate model is not well suited to earn.

        I’m skeptical of the whole idea, but if Craig wants to put up some actual money building the VISA of reputation-based economics I’d love to come work for him.

  2. Did ol’ Craig miss the Tea Partier video from last week?

    These people don’t give a wet Kleenex for facts. They care that Mexicans are coming in and taking their toilet-cleaning jobs and leaving them with Mexican pig flu. And that Obama is going to take away their right to no health care. They care that other people think they know better just because they’re scientist or economists. They don’t WANT facts – especially not facts that fly in the face of whatever Glenn Beck or Rush Limbaugh might say.

    Frankly, this whole “reputation is the new currency” business is NOT new. Reputation has ALWAYS been currency. The problem now is that reputation is no longer based on personal integrity, but rather on “presence.” We’ve merely gone from reputation on a values-based scale (good vs. bad) to reputation in quantity (I have more followers, therefore more of a reputation.)

  3. Am I the only person who thought whuffie was a scary distopian vision of how popularity would defeat truth?

  4. Wishful thinking Craig. People are, and always will be, vulnerable to the tricks of persuasion and right now the powerful forces of wealth and GOP power have pushed things farther from your utopian dream of a world of educated and rational citizens than can be retrieved in perhaps even decades. I doubt we’ll ever evolve to the state where there will be hardly anyone fooled by propaganda.

    I know there will be the inevitable “well Democrats do it too” post; sure, but that kind of equivocating masks the massive scale of what the GOP has engineered since Gingrich shut off bipartisan dialog in Congress. Unless you’ve been off planet, it would be hard to miss that significant numbers of people believe things that are demonstrably untrue.

    Sad to say, there will always be people who will buy snake oil.

  5. I’m excited to see a few posts already mentioning that reputation doesn’t have squat to do with facts, and that trust is mostly invested in whatever talking heads win the popularity contest in media, and then spout ideas that “feel right” rather than that ARE right.

    I think people are ultimately good, but I think they are also ultimately scared, panicky apes, who would rather criminalize being different than accept the risk that comes with a broad world view.

  6. I worry about this, and I see I’m not the only one.

    Fact based reporting is *not* based on trust; it is built on skepticism.

    Big lie propaganda is built on trust.

  7. hybrnM,

    That’s a great way to put it!

    The trust in mouthpieces like Glen Beck or Limbaugh is built very carefully over time. Why do the propagandists vilify scientists so much? Because scientists cultivate skepticism. This is an intentional dumbing down of voters to serve those with money and power.

  8. Nanug,

    To differ a bit, Credibility can be remarkably durable -even in the least credible- if you’ve primed your audience to disregard fact and reason. You can go through a Glen Beck hour and find countless examples of false and misleading statements that even a simple Google search would debunk, yet his minions are growing and he’s making millions.

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