Social media ‘filter bubbles’ – where users only see news sympathetic with their own views – have been blamed for pretty much everything considered ‘wrong’ with politics, from obscuring Trump’s popularity and encouraging political polarisation to the ‘fake news’ epidemic. New publishing startup Echo Chamber Club offers to burst readers’ filter bubbles and challenge their views — and it’s doing so well that it is already planning to expand. Andrew Brightwell interviews its founder, Alice Thwaite.
The Echo Chamber Club, founded in June 2016, sets out to “help ‘liberal and progressive metropolitans’ understand different points of view for themselves.” It publishes weekly emails, each covering a subject in the news, but offering a perspective directly opposed to the liberal consensus.
Since starting in the wake of the UK’s vote to leave the European Union, it has challenged liberal perceptions on Russia’s support of the Assad regime in Syria, inflation policy, Western military intervention, and the EU referendum. Continue reading →
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.
When media executives (and the occasional columnist on a deadline) talk about ‘the problem with the web’ they often revert to a series of recurring themes. In doing so they draw on a range of discourses that betray assumptions, institutional positions and ideological leanings. I thought I’d put together a list of some common memes of hatred directed towards the internet at various points by publishers and journalists, along with some critical context.
If you can think of any other common complaints, or responses to the ones below, post them in the comments and I’ll add them in. I’ll also update this blog post whenever I come across new evidence on any of the topics.
Meanwhile, here’s a table of contents for easy access:
Undemocratic and unrepresentative (the ‘Twitterati’)
The presumption here is that the media as a whole is more representative and democratic than users of the web. You know, geeks. The ‘Twitterati’ (a fantastic ideologically-loaded neologism that conjures up images of unelected elites). A variant of this is the position that sees any online-based protest as ‘organised’ and therefore illegitimate. Continue reading →