3 min read

Microsoft Edge mobile browser is now flagging untrustworthy news sites with the help of a plugin named NewsGuard. Microsoft partnered with NewsGuard in August 2018 under its Defending Democracy Program. It was first supported as a downloadable plugin, but now Microsoft has started automatically installing this functionality on mobile version of Edge. Currently, it is an opt-in feature, which you can enable by going to the Settings menu .

NewsGuard was founded by journalists Steven Brill and Gordon Crovitz. It evaluates a news site based on 9 specific criteria including their use of deceptive headlines, transparency regarding ownership and financing and gives users a color coded rating in green or red. Its business model is basically licensing its product to tech companies that aim to fight fake news.

According to The Guardian, NewsGuard was warning users when they visited the Mail Online, “Proceed with caution: this website generally fails to maintain basic standards of accuracy and accountability.” Steve Brill says that NewsGuard takes complete responsibility for its verdicts and all complaints should be directed at his company rather than Microsoft. “They can blame us. And we’re happy to be blamed. Unlike the platforms we’re happy to be accountable. We want people to game our system. We are totally transparent. We are not an algorithm.”

A spokesperson for Mail Online said to The Guardian, “We have only very recently become aware of the NewsGuard startup and are in discussions with them to have this egregiously erroneous classification resolved as soon as possible.”

Though NewsGuard says that its verdict are taken by experienced journalists, there are still some issues that users have pointed out. One of the Hacker News user said that the very concern related to NewsGuard is that it flags unreliable content at the site level instead of the article level. Sharing what consequences this could impose he wrote, “It’s obvious why that’s necessary, but the result is a complete failure to deal with any source where quality varies widely. Fox’s written reporting is sometimes quite good, but Glenn Beck’s old videos are still posted under the same domain. The result is that NewsGuard happily puts a big green check-mark above a video declaring that the US is the only country in the world with birthright citizenship.”

Though an opt-in feature is not a big deal, but with time this could become a default mode. We can’t deny that with time users could just see the green or red icon and based on that rating follow the website. Another Hacker News user says this could lead to something called “Truth as a service”, which means you are not using your own critical thinking and just take what the machine says. This fact is also supported by a study done by Gallup and the Knight Foundation, which surveyed 2,000 adults in U.S. They showed articles with and without the ratings and the result revealed that readers are more likely to trust articles that included the green icon in the address bar.

Read the full story at The Guardian website.

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