Towards a more trustworthy internet.
We believe we are at an inflection point in the short but rapidly moving history of the internet. Such a claim should not be made lightly: many generations throughout history have felt they are at the precipice of a major turning point.
Today, information comes at us through social networks, device notifications, and messaging applications. We proactively tap into information through intermediaries such as search engines, collaborative encyclopedias, and thematic messaging boards.
The information we receive is created for a multiplicity of reasons. It informs, yes, but often this informing comes with ulterior motive. Information persuades and asserts, sells and instructs, and even lies and misleads. When we don’t understand the motivational context of the information we receive – why it was created and distributed to us – we are already partly in the dark about it. And this is just the beginning of our woes as information consumers.
The Asymmetry of Information
The development of information discovery and dissemination technologies significantly favors creators and distributors over consumers. Optimization, testing, and recommendation algorithms based on immense datasets make information more appealing, more promising, and more tailored to the consumer’s tastes, regardless of the actual content or the motivation behind it. Publishers know the best times to distribute their content and the most likely demographics to distribute it to. Search engines personalize results and experiment with ways to get consumers to stay on their services and engage more with paid advertising. Social media platforms figure out what kind of person or brand you are most likely to react to emotionally and they use that to keep you coming back to the platforms.
No comparable tools are available to information consumers. There is no disclosure that a page you are about to access will try to persuade you to change your beliefs. There is no warning that a site you are about to enter employs behaviorally optimized recommendation systems, designed to take and keep the visitor's attention. And there is no quick way to understand the quality of information before consuming it.
Building and Spreading Trust
If we distrust the information we are offered, why should we trust that the information of others is any better? The increasing occurrence of misinformation leads us to doubt the knowledge of our fellow citizens and family members, too. There should be multiple sources of information that offer different perspectives and world views, but it should be easier for audience members to understand what could contribute to their knowledge.
Trust can only be earned, and we rely on signals of trust in many everyday contexts. User ratings and reviews work for many products and services when we are shopping for alternatives, for example. But the way information is communicated often makes it too nuanced to be easily evaluated. We need to create different tools for information consumers.
Without transparency, trust is blind. We want to make the expertise and skills of seasoned critical readers easily available — and useful — to anyone who wants to understand information and turn it into knowledge. This is a step toward rectifying the imbalance of power providers and consumers of information.
We see the current situation of distrust as highly challenging, but we also believe there is a strong desire – among individuals and societies alike – to change things for the better. We would love to have you with us as we work to make the internet a more trustworthy place.