As part of a series of articles on the innovators tackling the filter bubble phenomenon, Andrew Brightwell interviews John Gable, founder and CEO of AllSides, a website that has devised its own way to present alternative perspectives on American news.
When a man who helped build the first successful web browser says there’s something wrong with the Internet, it probably pays to listen.
“The internet is broken.”
John Gable’s diagnosis has authority: he has more than 30 years in the tech business, including stints at Microsoft, AOL and as a product manager for Netscape Navigator.
Now he is founder and CEO of AllSides Inc, a news website with a distinct mission. Visit AllSides.com and it offers the news you’d expect on any US politics site, except that its lead stories include a choice of articles: one from the left, centre and right.
“The headlines are so radically different that even reading [them together] tells you more about that topic than reading one story all the way through.”
There’s a fascinating study on newspaper bias by University of Chicago professors Matthew Gentzkow and Jesse Shapiro which identifies the political bias of particular newspapers based on the frequency with which certain phrases appear.
The professors then correlate that placement with the political leanings of the newspaper’s own markets, and find
“That the most important variable is the political orientation of people living within the paper’s market. For example, the higher the vote share received by Bush in 2004 in the newspaper’s market (horizontal axis below), the higher the Gentzkow-Shapiro measure of conservative slant (vertical axis).”
Interestingly, ownership is found to be statistically insignificant once those other factors are accounted for.
James Hamilton, blogging about the study, asks:
“How slant gets implemented at the ground level by individual reporters. My guess is that most reporters know that they are introducing some slant in the way they’ve chosen to frame and report a story, but are unaware of the full extent to which they do so because they are underestimating the degree to which the other sources from which they get their information and beliefs have all been doing a similar filtering. The result is social networks that don’t recognize that they have developed a groupthink that is not centered on the truth.” [my emphasis]
In other words, the ‘echo chamber’ argument (academics would call it a discourse) that we’ve heard made so many times about the internet.
It’s nice to be reminded that social networks are not an invention of the web, but rather the other way around.