People “fly to quality” news on social sites when faced with uncertainty


When information becomes a matter of life or death or is key to navigating economic uncertainty, as it has been during the COVID-19 pandemic, it appears people turn to tried-and-true sources of information rather than iffy sites that have become a greater part of the social media news diet in recent years.

CSMR has published a guest blog post for NewsWhip, one of our partners for the Iffy Quotient platform health metric, detailing this “flight to quality.” This type of behavior is similar to what people exhibit with their investments when financial markets are volatile.

In late February, we noticed a drop in the Iffy Quotient—fewer of the popular URLs on both Facebook and Twitter were coming from iffy sites. We were inspired to see if there was an associated surge in sharing of articles from mainstream sources, which might be interpreted as a flight to quality in uncertain times. To do this we calculated a Mainstream Quotient, which would tell us about the fraction of popular URLs that came from mainstream news sites. (Please see our NewsWhip blog post for more details on the Mainstream Quotient's methodology.)

Ultimately, we found that during the initial stages of the COVID-19 crisis (Feb. 1 - May 1, 2020) there was both a relative reduction in sharing of content from Iffy sites on Facebook and Twitter, and a relative increase in the sharing of content from mainstream news sites. Presumably, this reflects a combination of changes in user behaviors and actions taken by the platforms. (On a number of occasions Facebook and Twitter have publicly announced their efforts to combat the spread of misinformation about COVID-19, ranging from the removal of such content to the addition of warning labels and messages and, on Facebook, a “COVID-19 Information Center.”)

A fuller discussion of our findings can be found in our NewsWhip blog post. The graph showing trends in the Iffy Quotient for Facebook and Twitter, updated daily, is available at our Platform Health Metrics page.

See the full blog post:
See the Michigan News press release:

Press release: New version of Iffy Quotient shows steady drop of questionable information on social media, partners with NewsGuard for better data


A press release has been issued by Michigan News on CSMR seeing a continued decline in questionable content on Facebook and Twitter. This finding comes courtesy of the newest version of our Iffy Quotient metric, the first of our platform health metrics designed to track how well media platforms are meeting their public responsibilities. The latest Iffy Quotient figures indicate that the percentages of the most popular news URLs on Facebook and Twitter that are from “iffy” sites (ones that frequently publish unreliable information) have fallen over the period of October 1, 2018, to July 1, 2019. On Facebook, questionable content dropped from 12.2% to 7.2% during that time, while on Twitter it dropped only slightly from 11.1% to 10.9%.

CSMR has also formed a new, exciting partnership with NewsGuard, who will now serve as our primary source for vetting and rating news and information sites.

The NewsGuard News Website Reliability Index provides a way to differentiate between generally reliable and generally unreliable sites. NewsGuard rates each site based on nine binary, apolitical criteria of journalistic practice, including whether a site repeatedly publishes false content, whether it regularly corrects or clarifies errors, and whether it avoids deceptive headlines.

Weighted points are awarded for each criterion and then summed up; a score of less than 60 earns a “red” rating, while 60 and above earns a “green” rating, which indicates it is generally reliable. NewsGuard also identifies which sites are satire—for example, the popular publication The Onion.

For the purposes of calculating the Iffy Quotient, a site with a NewsGuard “red” rating that is not identified as satire is considered iffy.

More details of how the Iffy Quotient is calculated are included in our Iffy Quotient report. The graph showing trends in the Iffy Quotient for Facebook and Twitter, updated daily, is available at our Platform Health Metrics page.

See the full press release:

New research on best practices and policies to reduce consumer harms from algorithmic bias


On May 22, 2019, CSMR Director Paul Resnick was among the featured expert speakers at the Brookings Institution's Center for Technology Innovation, which hosted a discussion on algorithmic bias. This panel discussion related to the newly released Brookings paper on algorithmic bias detection and mitigation, co-authored by Nicol Turner Lee, Resnick, and Genie Barton. It offers government, technology, and industry leaders a set of public policy recommendations, self-regulatory best practices, and consumer-focused strategies that promote the fair and ethical deployment of artificial intelligence systems and machine learning algorithms.

The full video of the panel discussion is below. (Please note that there are about 12 minutes of introductory remarks before the start of the panel discussion.)