Popularity doesn’t equal truth

Popularity doesn’t equal truth

 Popularity doesn’t equal truth. And yet Facebook’s recent proposal to rank the trustworthiness of news sources based on popularity is loosely equating truth with popularity. In so doing, Facebook may be putting form over function.

During the housing crisis, numerous mortgage backed securities were rated “AAA.” These ratings were immensely popular. The ratings were from agencies like Moody’s. Little did many in the market know that these agencies received their fees by the very same banks who were underwriting, or brokering, the mortgage backed securities. As can be seen in movies like The Big Short, or by the financial injuries incurred by many who lost a great deal during the crisis, the securities in question were, in fact, junk. As a result, many of these credit reporting agencies were sued for their ratings via class action lawsuits. This bubble and resulting financial carnage wasn’t new. During the “Dutch tulip bulb bubble” in the early 1600s, prices for tulips were as much as six times a person’s salary. Prices then crashed afterwards to their pre-craze levels.

While Facebook is less likely to have legal exposure for infringing materials or defamatory news posted on the network, its new approach may change that. As a conduit of news rather than a publisher of it, Facebook normally takes an impartial approach towards items that you post on it. By inserting an algorithm into the picture which makes more popular news sources the more reliable ones, Facebook is becoming less an impartial umpire and more a participant in deciding what is true — and what isn’t. It would be akin to determining which works posted are not infringing and which are under fair use based on consensus as opposed to legal analysis.

If Facebook and sites of its ilk really want to combat “fake news,” they may want to think of spot auditing news sources. Like an IRS audit, Facebook would vet a source’s news story for factual veracity by comparing what is said to primary materials, like e-mails, written testimony, or other objectively verifiable information, rather than just leaving up to popularity. As can be seen from the 2016 Gallup poll, in which only 32% of Americans said they trust the media to “report the news accurately and fairly,” the lowest in history, measuring news by popularity isn’t the best benchmark for reliability.

And so Facebook’s policy may be putting form – popularity – over function – truth. It may be prudent to remember Plato’s warning: “no one is more hated than he who speaks the truth.” Perhaps the same can be said about unpopular but accurate or balanced news.

Want to stay out of jail? Read this.

Want to stay out of jail? Read this.

Stop!” Says the police officer. Do you need to stop? And when the officer wants to frisk you, must you let him or her do it? While much has been written about in the press recently about “stop and frisk,” the constitutional rules of the road are rarely covered. This entry provides a short primer.

Recently, I had the privilege of defending RC, a prominent Alabama artist, whose works appear at shops like Billy Reid on Bond Street in Manhattan, against a graffiti misdemeanor charge, among other things. Thankfully, I was able to get the charges dropped to a violation, which is not a crime. How did I do it? By ensuring that his Fourth Amendment rights were protected.

The Fourth Amendment prohibits unreasonable searches and seizures of you by the cops. Generally, cops need to obtain a warrant to search any area in which you have a reasonable expectation of privacy. Such areas include your messenger bag, jean pockets, or purse. If the cops directly or indirectly search such an area without a warrant, they are violating the your Fourth Amendment rights. Any related evidence obtained couldn’t be used against you.

However, there are certain exceptions which allow the cops to search or seize you without a warrant. One is “plain view.” For example, the New York City police department observes illegal graffiti materials peeking out from your backpack. Another exception is hot pursuit. New York City police officers see you spray painting a building in Chelsea, and then sprinting from the scene. In both cases, cops have a right to frisk you for any contraband, particularly after an arrest.

To stop you on the street, the cops need only have a reasonable suspicion that you are involved in criminal activity. To frisk you, the standard is higher. In that case, cops must have a reasonable suspicion that you are “armed and dangerous.” If one of the exceptions above applies, however, then they need not have such a suspicion. Barring that, the police cannot search areas of your person, such as your messenger bag, pockets, or purse, without you being considered “armed and dangerous.”

So the next time you are stopped by the police and have arguably broken some law, remember these general parameters. They can help protect your rights, and potentially keep you from going to jail.