when you don’t know what you don’t know

Real talk: I’m about to nerd out on you a little bit here.

I’ve been really eager to see how social platforms and content aggregates would respond to issues like fake news (I HATE that I just said ‘fake news’ and meant it, but I honestly can’t think of a better, more concise way of describing straight up fiction portrayed as legitimate, sourced news) and the dangers of hyper-personalized algorithms limiting someone’s exposure to differing perspectives.

This isn’t a new conversation, but it has certainly been pursued with a renewed sense of urgency since the 2016 American presidential election

I consider myself to be pretty well-informed on Canadian and American issues, and I know I am under-informed on international issues. I spend a lot of time reading North American news and op-eds, listening to podcasts, and watching clips from late night political satire. Before the election, I believed that most people shared my views. Since the election, I’ve learned that that is not the case. I had my views and engaged with people and content with similar views. I had a hard time understanding how anyone could be engaging with the content I was and not share my views. For example, after listening to the This American Life episode about Hillary’s emails, I could not for the life of me understand how anyone could still view the issue as a primary reason to not vote for her.

But I didn’t know what I didn’t know. I didn’t know that most people weren’t reading the New Yorker or listening to This American Life. They were reading something else that I had never seen, and living a reality I didn’t know existed. I did not know of the plight of middle-class America. I did not know how disenchanted Americans had become with their government. I did not know so much prejudice and hatred still existed in the world. I never went looking for it, and it was never presented to me. I liked what I liked, so I engaged with the same platforms and outlets. The *~iNtErNeT~* also knew what I liked so it kept showing me content it thought I would like.

So come election night I was shocked to learn that so many people did not share my views. I was also humbled, because I had arrogantly assumed I knew all there was to know about all the issues and I’d never thought to challenge that assumption. I now understand that it is my responsibility to ask more questions about the content I’m reading and to go looking for content that I have not and would not normally read.

But what responsibility do content creators and aggregates have to present and push balanced coverage and differing perspectives? Content aggregates like Facebook make money by targeting ads and paid content to the individual end user, so it’s in their best interest to give the end user exactly what they want. Facebook’s super smart hyper-targeting is great for ad revenue, but not so great for giving users a true, balanced perspective of the world around them.

Here’s what a couple platforms are doing to ensure the quality of information being shared and to increase exposure of differing views:

BuzzFeed News: Outside Your Bubble 

In BuzzFeed’s own words: Outside Your Bubble is a BuzzFeed News effort to bring you a diversity of thought and opinion from around the internet. 

On applicable posts, Outside Your Bubble will show you user comments of different opinions. For example, on this post about Trump and the Dems potentially being close to an agreement on DREAMers, Outside Your Bubble shows:
Screen Shot 2017-10-01 at 10.05.52 AM
And when you  click into the first perspective:
Screen Shot 2017-10-01 at 10.08.50 AM
Now, I don’t find all of the selected comments to be particularly insightful but I do appreciate the opportunity to see what others are saying without having to wade through dozens of comments. It is worth noting that BuzzFeed News has a relatively progressive readership, so to showcase comments from BuzzFeed News readers as examples of differing perspectives is likely not super representative of the population.

Facebook Journalism Project
I was stoked to see the Facebook Journalism Program announced in January of this year, and it’s interesting to see what they’ve been up to since. There’s A LOT of info in this six-month update, but a few things to highlight:

The Facebook Journalism Project is different than BuzzFeed’s Outside Your Bubble in that it’s going much deeper than presenting differing perspectives. The Facebook project is looking at how it can preserve the integrity of information being shared on the platform, and how the platform can support integrity in the news industry overall.

The industry stuff is interesting but the part that I think will have the greatest impact for the end user is this section here:

Screen Shot 2017-10-01 at 10.29.21 AM

Both of these projects give me hope for the future of news media, and I’m looking forward to seeing how other content creators and aggregates step up to support this important next phase of journalism.

Are you aware of any other projects like these? I would love to know your thoughts!

Leave a Reply