Want to read Slashdot from your mobile device? Point it at m.slashdot.org and keep reading!


Forgot your password?
The Internet

Berners-Lee Wants Truth Ratings For Websites 535

holy_calamity writes "While introducing the new World Wide Web Foundation Tim Berners-Lee made also asked for a system of ratings to help people distinguish truth and untruth online. 'On the web the thinking of cults can spread very rapidly,' he said, saying that 'there needed to be new systems that would give websites a label for trustworthiness once they had been proved reliable sources.'"
This discussion has been archived. No new comments can be posted.

Berners-Lee Wants Truth Ratings For Websites

Comments Filter:
  • by cabjf ( 710106 ) on Tuesday September 16, 2008 @09:40AM (#25024433)
    ...a truthiness rating!
    • by Nasajin ( 967925 ) on Tuesday September 16, 2008 @09:50AM (#25024581)
      Clearly you don't understand truthiness. I don't need a rating, I know the answer in my gut.
      • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

        by d3ac0n ( 715594 )

        Ironically, the Op's statement is more insightful than many people may realize. Let's face it, there is alot of crap floating around that masquerades as "Truth". The entire "9/11 Truth" movement, for example. (Which, I suspect, is what the OP got the "truthiness" quip from. A mock on the "truther" movement.)

        The point is, WHO is to be the arbiter of "truth"? And how do we know they won't have a political agenda? I think that the major problem is not that some sites need a "true" or "not true" label, bu

        • by Ioldanach ( 88584 ) on Tuesday September 16, 2008 @10:05AM (#25024773)
          Truthiness is a creation of Steven Colbert of the Colbert Report, and was Merriam-Webster's 2006 word of the year [merriam-webster.com]
        • by cthulu_mt ( 1124113 ) on Tuesday September 16, 2008 @10:05AM (#25024783)
          "What is Truth?" Asked Pontius Pilate as he washed his hands...
        • Re: (Score:3, Funny)

          by KGIII ( 973947 ) *

          Someone mod him up lest the rest miss him. Do you REALLY want to know how well /. would hold up in a test for truth?

        • by Talderas ( 1212466 ) on Tuesday September 16, 2008 @10:24AM (#25025055)

          Critical thinking will never be in high schools as long as we have programs like No Child Left Behind.

        • Re: (Score:3, Funny)

          by eiceic ( 1362107 )

          I'm thinking we need a "Truth Authority" coalition. Maybe the Catholic Church, the U.S. Government, and Fortune 500 companies -- they have a good track record so far.

        • by Red Flayer ( 890720 ) on Tuesday September 16, 2008 @11:01AM (#25025595) Journal

          It would be far more efficacious to push for a critical thinking and debate class requirements in grade and collegiate level schools. At least then people would be better equipped to winnow out the facts from the crap themselves, and we wouldn't have to rely on some nebulous "Truth Authority" to inform us.

          That may be even harder to make happen than to implement a fair and accurate "truthfulness" rating.

          That said, I'm opposed to the idea of any kind of trust ranking. It promotes intellectual laziness, which we already have enough of, and would work against what you promote.

          As far as I'm concerned, we need to push tools that stimulate critical thinking and logic. Any system that purports to provide a trustworthiness value of a source is dangerous to society in the long run, for reasons given in others' posts (e.g., groupthink).

      • by IdahoEv ( 195056 ) on Tuesday September 16, 2008 @12:10PM (#25026533) Homepage

        ... for conservatives, at least.

        Consider this research, which I saw yesterday - possibly the most depressing thing I have read in terms of seeing rational politics and governance in my lifetime. Conservatives are more likely to believe something that supports their belief system after it has been refuted by experts.


        For example, when shown a clip of George Bush in 2003 claiming Iraq had WMD's, 35% of conservatives agree. When shown the same clip plus the 2004 Duelfer report (compiled by a Bush appointee) which demonstrated that Iraq did not have WMD's, suddenly 64% of conservatives believe the weapons were there.

        The same effect was seen with statements about tax revenue. In general, when shown expert testimony that contradicts preestablished beliefs, conservatives' beliefs go the other way: experts in general have negative credibility with half the country.

        This was not true of liberals: they tended to be unswayed or slightly convinced by expert testimony.

    • by Anonymous Coward on Tuesday September 16, 2008 @09:51AM (#25024589)

      I'd mod you +1 truthy (but I could be making this up).

  • by mraiser ( 1151329 ) on Tuesday September 16, 2008 @09:40AM (#25024435)
    There. Now you know.
    • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

      by boaworm ( 180781 )

      Well, according to who? ;-)

      Who's truth?

      As Napoleon once said: "History is a set of lies agreed upon"

      I mean, a page describing how Jesus ascended into heaven after being buried. Is that truthful? I guess one billion people would say it is.

      Quite often, truth is just what most people think. Burning witches in the dark ages was fine, because we _knew_ they were witches.

      This seems like some guy who just woke up after believing some dude was going to send him one million dollars, and now he wants the internet to

      • by JasterBobaMereel ( 1102861 ) on Tuesday September 16, 2008 @11:23AM (#25025893)

        Except of course that in the Dark Ages they did not burn Witches (most were hung) and they were not as many as people think (only a few thousand over 150 years) and many where not old and not women, and the Church were against the practice ...

        So in the Not very Dark ages not very many witches (of all ages and genders) were not burnt, and not by the church ...

        This is the problem with truth : Everything most people know to be true is wrong

        • Re: (Score:3, Funny)

          by zotz ( 3951 )

          "This is the problem with truth : Everything most people know to be true is wrong"


          That should about settle things for everyone.


        • Re: (Score:3, Informative)

          by Phrogman ( 80473 )

          If you want a good source on this, try this book:

          http://www.fieldsbooks.com/cgi-bin/fields/A469.html [fieldsbooks.com]

          Despite the lurid title, its a fairly scholarly work written by a respectable scholar with ample footnotes and examples.

          Witches were hung in England, but burnt in much of Europe and Scotland. There were not as many so killed as people think, but in places like Germany it was still pretty frightening. From what I recall, most of the trials and executions for Witchcraft took place in the 1500-1700s mostlly, wel

        • Re: (Score:3, Informative)

          by scipiodog ( 1265802 )

          Except of course that in the Dark Ages they did not burn Witches (most were hung) and they were not as many as people think (only a few thousand over 150 years) and many where not old and not women, and the Church were against the practice ...

          Indeed... They were so against the practice that two catholic inquisitors published a guide [slashdot.org] to help magistrates find them and convict them, ie. put them to death.

          Ironically enough, the spread of this odious work was even enhanced by "modern" technology, in the form of Mr Guttenberg's little invention.

          Common estimates for deaths are from 40,000 to 100,000, and mostly women.

          Oh, I'm sorry, did I disrupt your little piece of historical revisionism there? My bad.

  • by FooAtWFU ( 699187 ) on Tuesday September 16, 2008 @09:40AM (#25024439) Homepage
    ... but for Facts, not Truth. If it's truth you're looking for, Dr. Tyree's philosophy class is right down the hall.
    • Re: (Score:3, Funny)

      by somersault ( 912633 )

      Can you just imagine all the poor people who are heavily confused about the state of affairs in Soviet Russia after reading slashdot? How were they to know that these things were untrue!?

    • by spiffyman ( 949476 ) on Tuesday September 16, 2008 @09:52AM (#25024603) Homepage

      TFA is /.ed, and MirrorDot's not behaving, so this is a shot in the dark. But I'm reasonably sure we've heard something like this before, and the idea is just as bad now as it was. Berners-Lee is smart enough to know that all systemic rating scales are subject to being gamed. I fail to see how embedding such a scale in the protocol would help, and it's not unlikely that it would hurt the situation.

      Moreover, the WWW as he created it - being a very dumb platform - allows us to implement such a scale at a high level, using user input and so forth.There are already a ton of services that do something very like this. Hell, I can trust the top 10 things on del.icio.us more than I can trust random Google results.

      I donno. I just fail to see the point of this. Yeah, people's capacity to care about facts and details appears to be limited, but I don't think this is the solution.

      • I fail to see how embedding such a scale in the protocol would help, and it's not unlikely that it would hurt the situation.

        The idea here seems to be more of a "FooOrg TruthRank" that you could subcribe to, "He went on to say that he didn't think "a simple number like an IQ rating" is a good idea: "I'd be interested in different organisations labelling websites in different ways".". Isn't there a browser toolbar that will show the google pagerank of pages you visit? I think the idea is something like that.

      • by Ginger Unicorn ( 952287 ) on Tuesday September 16, 2008 @11:59AM (#25026379)

        The important thing berners-lee is missing is that cults rely on restriction of information to thrive, not the ready availability of it. Fair enough - cults find a wider audience through the web, but so does all the anti-cult information that exposes their various scams.

        I mean, look at Scientology - thanks to the web, a lot more people know what Scientology is nowadays, and why it is a scam. So when they are walking past a "free stress test" stand they are less likely to get sucked in.

        Problems created by misinformation are solved by education, not censorship.

  • And Then What? (Score:5, Insightful)

    by Alex Pennace ( 27488 ) <alex@pennace.org> on Tuesday September 16, 2008 @09:40AM (#25024453) Homepage

    What is to prevent any such proposed system from becoming yet another popularity contest plagued by those who want to quash unpopular ideas?

    • Re:And Then What? (Score:5, Insightful)

      by Nasajin ( 967925 ) on Tuesday September 16, 2008 @09:54AM (#25024623)
      Absolutely nothing. The system is exactly a popularity contest, where truth is determined democratically, rather than by actual relationship to reality.
      • Re:And Then What? (Score:5, Insightful)

        by Anonymous Coward on Tuesday September 16, 2008 @10:19AM (#25024991)

        And that, my friends, is the exact problem with Web 2.0 (for lack of a better term). Allow "democratic" control of content, and all content eventually converges on boobs and beer, because it is the lowest common denominator for a lot of Internet users. I need only cite digg.com for this point.

      • Bury (Score:5, Funny)

        by coryking ( 104614 ) * on Tuesday September 16, 2008 @10:47AM (#25025393) Homepage Journal

        Please dont go against the groupthink on diggdot. Until then, I have no choice but to bury your comment and then reply to it flaming you.

        It is a well known fact that George Bush used dozens of Cops with Tasers to bring down Richard Stallman for Smoking Legal Pot for his Melanoma. We should ban Tasers, Bush, Cops and vote Paul/Stallman for 2008 (Paul is still running, the MSM just lies about it).

        Also, the moon landing is a hoax, 9/11 really happened on 9/12 but the Pepsi bottling company wanted it moved a day to sell more soda so the fat cats in Washington fucked with the calandar to make it so (this is true, there have been several other diggdot stories proving it...), and Diebold stole every election since Hoover.

        Now digg my comment *up* please--if not for stating the obvious, but for its inner truth.

        • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

          by Nasajin ( 967925 )
          Yes, yes, yes, and god doesn't exist, global warming's a myth, etc etc etc. The system will not uncover anything real in its ratings, it's simply going to reflect a consensus. There's a process here which underlies this system; it's called reification, and while it has several different definitions depending on your field of study, the context I'm invoking it in is the cultural studies model. It describes the process where individuals take statistical data as actual reality - importantly, the statistics are
    • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

      by gad_zuki! ( 70830 )

      Its not. This is just a glaring example of what happens when people who are good at one thing start applying themselves to other things. TBL is good with the ol' hypertext but social issues of truth and bias? Not so much. It reminds me of all those quotes people have of Einstein in their sigs. If they arent about relativity then why bother?

  • by IceCreamGuy ( 904648 ) on Tuesday September 16, 2008 @09:41AM (#25024461) Homepage
    slashdot's been wrong in the past.
  • by xgr3gx ( 1068984 ) on Tuesday September 16, 2008 @09:42AM (#25024469) Homepage Journal
    This sounds like an exercise in futility
  • Like www.martinlutherking.org

    Wow that's a shit storm of truthiness right there. Can someone out there DDoS the fuck out of it while they're at it?

  • ... and who is going to watch the watchers?

    Or rather, in this case who is going to vet the group responsible for determining if something is true?

  • by nysus ( 162232 ) on Tuesday September 16, 2008 @09:45AM (#25024511)
    What's really needed is a society where a majority of the individuals have a world class education. No rating system will ever work until you get that in place.
  • ...of who assigns the ratings for trustworthiness? The users, who may already be part of the "groupthing" promoted by a site? A "non-partisan" organization of some sort? Individual countries? All of these possibilities can be gamed. As it is now, the first time I stumble on a site, I assume a lot of it's content to be noise unless it is known to me who set it up. With a rating system in place, a lot of people will default to using the rating system to determine whether a site is trustworthy, even if it is a
    • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

      by spiffyman ( 949476 )

      Bah. I've already posted, but if I hadn't I'd mod you up. These are exactly the kind of worries one might have about a system like what Berners-Lee is suggesting.

      But there's something else here. Suppose we were to pick one of the first two options you present (users or an uninvolved organization). Then the suggestion isn't terribly original. There are already sites that incorporate user input to rank sites (and some of them *koff*digg*koff* don't work all that well). And the idea of a neutral fact-checking

    • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

      by LWATCDR ( 28044 )

      So you are asking this question?
      "What is truth? Is your truth the same as mine?"
      What rating would be given,
      The Roman Catholic Church?
      The Mormons?
      What about Global Warming sites? What about sites that say Global Warming is a theory and is unproven?
      Facts are easy to rate. A site that claims that a Toyota Prius gets 3000 MPG is has their facts wrong.
      A site that says the McCain is a Nazi would have their facts wrong.
      But Truth is much harder.

  • Ok, let's truth rate (True or False answers only) the following sentence in this post:

    "This sentence is false."

    • by I cant believe its n ( 1103137 ) on Tuesday September 16, 2008 @10:18AM (#25024981) Journal

      Ok, let's truth rate (True or False answers only) the following sentence in this post:

      "This sentence is false."

      I'd have to give it 3 trues out of 5 possible.

  • Using semantic web tools, this can be achieved with reification of statements, and a network of trust. It's also the future of wikipedia, or at least it should be.

    • Unfortunately I think Knol has that covered.

    • by Tom ( 822 )


      Tim thinks deeper than most /. posters. From the article:

      He went on to say that he didn't think "a simple number like an IQ rating" is a good idea: "I'd be interested in different organisations labelling websites in different ways".

      That sounds a lot like a Credence-like system. There isn't "one truth", there are many truths. I would personally value the science truth more and the biblical "truth" less, but someone else might make a different decision.

      As I see it, he is looking more for a kind of citation system. If your website cites others as sources, and is cited by others in return, then what you say has a higher confidence value than if you're an island on the web an

  • Better yet, let's teach people how to think for themselves, particularly how to fact-check sources, thus reducing the number of people who believe the first website they see off of Google.
  • by Noryungi ( 70322 ) on Tuesday September 16, 2008 @09:50AM (#25024569) Homepage Journal

    I can see it from here: TRUTHINESS WARS!

    Forget about the Usenet flame wars, the Slashdot flame wars, even the Wikipedia editing wars, people... This is the Real Deal! Years after the Truthiness Wars, the Intertubes will still have that scarred, scorched look that faintly glows in the dark due to the irradiated remains of a thousand web sites.

    Decades after the commotion, survivors and veterans will trade horrible, traumatic war storie...

    Remember when the Vatican webmaster was allowed to rate Jack Chick [chick.com]?
    And Disney allowed to rate Warner Brothers?
    And Fox News allowed to rate Barack Obama's web site?
    Oh, come one, what about when Theo de Raadt was allowed to rate Linus Torvalds? And Linus counter-attack?
    And... Wait for it... RMS and the FSF rating Microsoft? Now, THAT is what I call a nice truthiness battle, baby! The mother of all such battles, in fact. Thousands of web sites went down in that one with the infamous 0% truthiness rating. Ugly, my man, but it had to be done.

    OK, does anybody else think this is a Bad Idea(tm), or am I the only one?

    And here is the proof: don't trust anything I ever posted on Slashdot. ;-)

  • by meist3r ( 1061628 ) on Tuesday September 16, 2008 @09:52AM (#25024601)
    As we know there are at least four:

    Your version,
    Their version,
    the Truth and
    what actually happened.

    If that works out will I see a big red pulsating "This is all bullshit" label on the Scientology or any Creationist homepage? I doubt any admin in their self-righteous mind would put something like that on their site. In the specific idiology what is true in reality is a lie in their world. So who's to decide who gets one of those and ranked by what? And you had to rule out all of the parties and congress's website. What about Whitehouse.gov? There should have been one of these "untruthful" markers for eight years now. Where is it?

    This will NEVER work. Since everyone makes their own truths nowadays there will be just as many ranking systems as there are opinions.
  • by MistaE ( 776169 ) on Tuesday September 16, 2008 @09:53AM (#25024621) Homepage
    Quick! Someone hide kdawson!
  • by Hozza ( 1073224 ) on Tuesday September 16, 2008 @09:54AM (#25024627)

    The original article was on the BBC:

    http://news.bbc.co.uk/2/hi/technology/7613201.stm [bbc.co.uk]

    It should be emphasised that he isn't suggesting a "truth commission" that would tag all web pages.

    He specifically said that he'd be interested to see how different organisations would label websites, depending on their intended use.

    In many ways this is just a specific use of the semantic web concept that Berners-Lee and others have been trying to bring about for the last few years.

  • Is this mostly a plan to get the Hubbardite sites labeled as expensive and dangerous bullshit?

  • The W3C already pushes RDF and RDFa, which are simple, machine-readable statements. Surely this already existing technology could be used to say things like "Site X has a trustworthyness of 80%", which could be stored in a distributed network of servers, with digital signing to show who's opinion it is. Then, people/sites which are well trusted can have their opinions held in higher regard, following some algorithm. Add some rules which keep automated entries from having much weight and voila.

    Yes, there wou

  • Who gets to decide what's true? The web is decentralized. All this would end up doing is making the groupthink problem even worse. Some loud people push an idea, it spreads a bit, then they declare a "concensus" and begin character-assassinating any dissenters. So I ask again, who gets to be the final authority on what is true and what isn't? The Pope, perhaps? (As a Protestant I've got a problem with that... [grin]) The whole point of the Internet is that it's decentralized. Installing choke point
  • One way to assess the truth of information on a site is to measure whether it's consistent with information from other sites. As long as you could avoid a variant of link farming, this would work to prevent all but the most systematic vandalism.

    It would even work with Wikipedia, because a vandal isn't going to know (and thus won't edit) every article that may contain information overlapping with a target article. The inconsistency between the vandalized article and others would give it away.

  • PageRank? (Score:4, Interesting)

    by D-Cypell ( 446534 ) on Tuesday September 16, 2008 @10:00AM (#25024713)

    It seems to me that google page rank is probably the most effective implementation of this concept that is possible. Technically it does not ensure that the content of a website is truthful or reliable, but it does make the determination that it is popular, which is all any kind of 'press here to record that this website is truthful' is ever going to do. There are very few areas where people will agree on 'truth'. Imagine this concept applied to websites that discuss creationism for example. These kind of sites will receive many votes for being both truthful and untruthful. All you are really doing is measuring the popularity of the idea that they express.

    Perhaps, an attribute could be added to the 'a' tag to indicate the type of link, so that a page author can indicate a rough reason why they have linked to a page. If I were to create a link in this post to a site that speaks of the LHCs potential to destroy the planet and called the link... "Check out these silly bastards". The PageRank of that site would increase, as there is no way to tell if I am supporting or lampooning that site with my link. A simple category system (not unlike slashdots moderations options) might help this process. So that I could add a category="funny" or category="insightful" to my link tags and any analysis tools (PageRank in particular) could adjust the ranking accordingly. Would be interesting to see what the top 10 funniest sites on the web were anyway :o)

  • by prgrmr ( 568806 ) on Tuesday September 16, 2008 @10:00AM (#25024719) Journal
    It's bad enough that we have government at every level trying to legislate away personal responsibility, now we have a respected industry leader advocating for the same sort of Orwellian control.
  • What we need is widespread use of web annotation [wikipedia.org] software.

    Then people could judge the truthiness of anything according their own little ideological ghetto, and the rest of us wouldn't have to put up with their whining.

  • by Colin Smith ( 2679 ) on Tuesday September 16, 2008 @10:02AM (#25024737)

    i.e. a universal reputation system is a hard problem.

    Today, we use brands for that.


  • trust metric (Score:4, Interesting)

    by starm_ ( 573321 ) on Tuesday September 16, 2008 @10:04AM (#25024769)

    Actually what we need is a trust metric. Some process that propagates trust creating a kind of trustworthiness social network so that when you encounter something new, you can get an idea of, who trusts this information.

    It should be able to answer questions like: Do the people you know trust this? How about the those you rated as trustworthy? Do certain specific groups and communities trust this? Maybe it hasn't been rated enough yet?

  • by Doc Ruby ( 173196 ) on Tuesday September 16, 2008 @10:23AM (#25025053) Homepage Journal

    Right before the Web Bubble popped in 1999, there was a company called ThirdVoice that was rising to the surface. It was a browser plugin that made a layer of "post-it notes" that were attached to specific pages shown in the browser, even tagging specific items on the page. Anyone with the plugin was letting their browser hit the ThirdVoice server, which contained a list of notes indexed to the page, with pointers to which item was notated. So viewers could switch on and off the layer, and see how anyone else had marked up the page. That let people give ratings to pages, and people could look at them, make up their minds, and post their own take on things. There was also a feature to add or remove specific users or user groups to what was displayed, to cut out spam.

    That kind of independent rating and commentary, right there on the page, is what should satisfy Berners-Lee. He should just dig up the old ThirdVoice app, or this Slashdot post, and pay a few dozen thousand bucks at a team to dust it off. If he wanted to do it right, he'd sponsor the startup of two or three independent teams which would then compete with each other, for true independence. We don't need some "Good Housekeeping Seal of Approval To Rule Them All" imposing a front layer from a single powerful org that controls the whole Web with its opinion of what lies beneath.

  • by Vellmont ( 569020 ) on Tuesday September 16, 2008 @11:19AM (#25025833) Homepage

    This seems little more than keeping people more tightly within the boxes they already are in. He doesn't propose a single system, but multiple different ratings systems. So the Democrats could have one, the Republicans could have one, the Scientologists could have one, the "free thinkers" could have one, the Vegans could have one, the Anti-abortionists could have one, etc. I think I'd prefer a single all-encompassing one. At least everyone would know that's bullshit.

    In other words, you could always be certain how well the website you're reading corresponds to your Chosen Doctrine. Great. Hell, with such a ratings system people could filter out anything and everything that disagrees with Doctrine.

    No, the current system of your friends and family telling you "You're An Idiot" when you read stupid things like "the moon landing was faked" works a lot better. Sure, it sucks too, but at least you know the people telling you you're an idiot, and occasionally get exposed to some idea you may not agree with.

  • by lennier ( 44736 ) on Tuesday September 16, 2008 @06:23PM (#25031837) Homepage

    I don't get why people are slagging Tim off over this. We already do have such mechanisms on the small scale: karma points for comments, reputation systems for online trading, blogrolls and 'social bookmarking services' for 'this unknown website is recommended/suggested by this other website I read'.

    Remember Advogato's rankings?

    The logical next step would be to have a generic way of talking about such rankings/recommendations such that I don't need to subscribe to a third party to do it. Use, oh, I don't know, how about RDF? We've already got FOAF - how about an 'Enemy Of My Enemy' protocol?

    Yes, this will lead to 'ontology wars' as groups with different views of trustworthiness start formalising the metrics they already use informally. As long as the protocol itself remains open and interconnectable, I don't see this as a huge problem. At least people will be openly owning their philosophical bias rather than pretending it doesn't exist.

I THINK MAN INVENTED THE CAR by instinct. -- Jack Handley, The New Mexican, 1988.