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Much has been spoken of the filter bubble.

This bubble works in two ways — it reduces the stories which you’re aware of, but also the perspectives which argue an alternative viewpoint.

Much has also been also been debated about truth and fact, #fakenews, questionable sources, outright lies.

We are moving rapidly towards a ‘see and believe’ culture.

Additionally — the content platforms themselves, whether they choose to agree they are publishers, technology platforms, editorial powers or otherwise, are exacerbating the issue by selecting the content which you see based upon algorithmic bias — if you like blue, you’ll see more blue.

Without algorithmic filtering and recommendation — the sheer weight of irrelevant content pushed at you would be horrendous, yet, where is the layer which reminds us that alternative points of view exist?

I remember years ago, when the Radio Times was ‘advertised’ on the BBC, they would be obliged to explain ‘other listings magazines are available’.

Where is the ‘other viewpoints are available’ disclaimer and functionality on social and journalistic content?

Some months ago, this chart started spreading virally, laying out various media outlets on a spectrum of political leaning on the horizontal and sensationalism on the vertical.

Whether you agree or disagree with the placement of each media outlet (Infowars, for instance retorted with its own chart, with significantly different positioning of many of the outlets), we can agree that there is a spectrum of viewpoint. Their position on the chart is less important, more that multiple viewpoints exist, and their editorial leanings will have influence on the position they take, the points they highlight, the argument they make, the data they rely upon, the impartiality of their content.

As my generation were taught, to cite sources and references in our writing, new generations will need to be taught and given tools to enable them to not only make judgement calls of the truthiness of content they consume, but also the skill to compare multiple sources until they’re able to construct their own argument.

I believe this is a skill in great decline. The ability to construct a personal viewpoint from a multitude of sources, which then you can form your own argument. We are increasingly served the viewpoint which algorithmically aligns to previous content we’ve seen, and we are increasingly accepting of what we see to be true — we have a trust in publishers which comes from a pre-digital era, in a post-truth age.

In order to fix this, I believe Google can play a role. Their mission is to index and make accessible all the worlds information. Their search engine algorithm called PageRank has developed over the years to understand the ‘influence’ of a page on a particular topic. What isn’t exposed readily, though, is the millions of other pages on the same topic. They are aware of the pages, and alternative writing on a topic — but search result pages are vertical lists — when in fact, they should be horizontal.

The ability to slide left and right on a topic, perhaps on a political scale or otherwise, would allow us to view multiple content posts on the same topic, from different sources and authors.

On the topic of the number of buildings with similar flammable cladding as that used in the Grenfell Tower disaster:

Daily Mail: Now SIXTY tower blocks across 25 council areas from Plymouth to Salford fail cladding safety checks amid fears Grenfell Tower’s ‘flammable’ insulation and smoke-filled stairwell were just as dangerous

Guardian: Sixty towers across England found to have unsafe cladding

Telegraph: Government ‘faces £600m cladding safety bill after Grenfell Tower disaster’

Multiple articles containing multiple editorial spins on the same factual state of the story as it develops.

When reading any of the articles above — a simple interface tool, to select another alternative view point or editorial view on the topic, could appear, allowing the reader to switch to another article.

Going further than this — data presented in the article could also be abstracted from across each of the varying authors of the articles. Whether or not there is truth in a frequently quoted number is up for debate, but at the very least, a table to show variation of the data points highlighted across multiple articles, varying quotes and subquotes, points of agreement and difference, across many articles which are horizontally linked, giving the reader the ability to compare, and make hopefully a more widely informed decision.

The most wonderful thing about the web today is its openness and ability for systems to read and interpret data. Using this technology to compare the many varying opinions on any particular topic is one of the tools we’ll need to invest in for the connected future. It may not tell us whether something is right, or wrong, but it will help us see the breadth of opinions, and the way in which data can be interpreted with different outcomes — and I believe this is the only role platforms like Google and Facebook can/must play. An impartial platform which gives us tools to compare and see breadth, rather than unseen editorialised arbiter.



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Matthew Knight

Chief Freelance Officer. Strategist. Supporting the mental health of the self-employed. Building teams which work better.