Elon Musk’s terrible ‘Yelp for Journalists’ idea.

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By Brad Hem

Few business leaders have come up with as many awesome and visionary ideas and actually executed them as Elon Musk. Even if all he’d done was create Tesla the guy would be venerated as a technology idol, but he didn’t stop there. SpaceX is launching rockets and catching them on remote-controlled barges in the middle of the ocean. The man wants to colonize Mars, and he’ll probably do it using the bricks he makes while tunneling under major cities.

But last week, Musk launched a dud. Over Twitter (where all brilliant ideas start), Musk said he plans to create a website “where the public can rate the core truth of any article & track the credibility score over time of each journalist, editor & publication. Thinking of calling it Pravda ….”

On social media, Musk’s followers immediately identified it as Yelp for Journalists. You could also call it Hot or Not for Facts.

Pravda is a Russian word for truth and was the name of the Soviet Union’s propaganda arm. That in itself made me think Musk was trolling us all because he was angry about the press coverage of deaths involving Tesla and injuries at his factory. Then Bloomberg reported Musk had actually registered Pravda Corp. with the California secretary of state’s office.

So maybe it’s real, but I sure hope not. Clearly Musk hasn’t talked to many small business owners who have had to deal with Yelp. It only takes a couple bad reviews, whether they are credible or not, to kill a business.

Let’s imagine how that would translate to journalism. Working in PR, we study a lot of reporters’ work. Some are better than others, no doubt. Their job is to hold people in power accountable, and that gives journalists a lot of power themselves. Any reporter would tell you they have no problem being held accountable, but doing so by popular vote is not the way. Truth is not subjective. Facts should not be subject to a popularity contest.

Many reporters pride themselves on telling stories that make people uncomfortable. When your job is to afflict the comfortable and comfort the afflicted, you’re going to make some enemies. You’re going to offend some people. That’s the job.

Our society already has a pretty big problem with confirmation bias. We read and watch media that we know we’ll agree with instead of considering different viewpoints. Musk’s Pravda would only make this worse. I hope he was just trolling us all and keeps his focus on getting humans to Mars. Maybe he should work on inventing a thicker skin for himself while he’s at it.

Photo: JD Lasica

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