If you are reading this, we might be in the same news bubble
By CJ Adams and Izzie Zahorian
In Myanmar we met two journalists who, during a period of military rule, had smuggled newspapers in duffel bags to carry news between their country and the outside world. Their story stuck with us as a sort of personal challenge: these reporters had regularly risked their lives to read a just a few pages of news from outside their country; while we, with all our connectivity, rarely make the effort to do the same.
Even with the power of the internet, it can be surprisingly difficult to explore the diversity of global perspectives. Technology has made it easier for everyone share information, but it hasn’t made us better at finding viewpoints that are distant from our own. In some ways, a duffel bag full of newspapers would include a wider range of perspectives than many of us see on a daily basis.
Search engines, social media and news aggregators are great at surfacing information close to our interests, but they are limited by the set of topics and people we choose to follow. Even if we read multiple news sources every day, what we discover is defined by the languages we are able to read, and the topics that our sources decide to cover. Ultimately, these limitations create a “news bubble” that shapes our perspective and awareness of the world. We often miss out on the chance to connect and empathize with ideas beyond these boundaries.
That made us wonder: what might it look like to explore global news without these filters?
We’ve just released a new experiment related to this idea: a data visualization called Unfiltered.News. The viz uses Google News data to show what the daily news topics are being published in every region. Headlines for these topics can be viewed from around the world, with translations provided in 40 languages. We hope the viz can become a useful tool to explore what shapes our different perspectives, and to help users discover topics and viewpoints they would have otherwise missed.
Find news beyond your border
On Unfiltered.News, one of the first things you’ll notice is a list of topics on the right-hand side of the map. It shows topics that are popular globally on the specified day, but are not among the most reported topics in your particular location.
See which regions are reporting on a topic
If you select a topic, it will instantly redraw the map to show which locations are reporting most on that topic. From there, you can explore different points of view by reading the world’s headlines about that subject. In selecting the topic refugee, for example, you’ll find that today Germany is reporting on refugee who helped administer first aid after a plane crash, while other locations are talking about Syria and the Coast Guard.
Read topics and headlines in any language
If you change your preferred language in the left-hand settings bar, you can view news topics and read all headlines in that language. Unfiltered News currently supports 40 languages. Regardless of the language selected, thanks to the power of Google Translate you’re seeing the entire world’s news, in all its languages, translated automatically into the language of your choice.
Explore trends over time
In the trend line you can scroll back and forth to look at the volume of reporting on a topic over time.
Check out Unfiltered.news for yourself and let us know what you think! The viz is still in beta, so there are many known limitations at the moment, including the fact that topics (like Zika Virus) don’t map to larger concepts (like health or virus), and in some cases headlines / translations may be missing. Currently we only show the top 100 topics per country, so there may be topics that are in the news on a given day, but are not represented on the map. In other words, this is very much still a work in progress. Big thanks to our friends at Instrument, Google News, and BigPic for the help getting to this point.
If you find bugs or have ideas on how Unfiltered.news could be improved, let us know using the feedback tool the main menu. The viz will be updated every day with new data, and we are excited to see what you find by exploring. If you find interesting discoveries, we’d love to hear about them on Twitter (#unfilterednews), Facebook, or Google+