Some New Apps and Websites Want To Help You Escape Your Bubble. Here’s Our Evaluation

As public trust in the media sinks to a new low, reflecting the widespread belief that content is shaped and plagued by political biases, several outlets are taking advantage of the race to find that perfect algorithm by trying new approaches to offering news and building trust.

We explored AllSides, the media rating website that categorizes content on a political scale, in a recent TruthSquad post.

AllSides places content on a political spectrum which scales Left, Lean Left, Center, Lean Right and Right. Ratings are determined by crowd-driven research. Visitors have the opportunity to participate in two quizzes: one to determine their own bias, and one to rank content on the site. Users can also rate content as they read.

Content is filtered in its categories on the site which allows users to follow one news story across multiple outlets, all rated with different political leanings. This is intended to give readers a full glimpse of each of the diverse political perspectives surrounding an event.

Similar to AllSides in the mobile sphere is an iPhone application called Read Across The Aisle.

The application is described as a “news reader app” that lets the user choose from a variety of media outlets on its homepage. Each of these outlets are color coded to represent its political leaning. At the bottom of the page is a color dial, which shows the user’s own political bias based on reading history.

If you spend your day mostly reading stories from the left, for example, you’ll receive a reminder later on to explore the other side.

As you explore content from another perspective, your arrow will move across the dial.

One important thing we found a little confusing about the application is the coloring of the text. Each of the stories are displayed with text ricocheting between red and blue. Nick Lum, the founder of the application, says these colors don’t correlate to political bias or parties, unlike the rest of the application. Rather, they’re an extension of another product he founded: BeeLine Reader, which uses a color gradient to guide your eyes from the end of one line to the next. Users can change their text colors, but Lim says that research shows red and blue to be the preferred colors for focus.

While AllSides and Read Across The Aisle focus on direct media bias rating and political leaning, BuzzFeed News debuted an experiment last month which addresses outside perspectives without directly addressing potentially biased reporting.

The feature, “Outside Your Bubble,” appears as a module at the bottom of an article page. It’s still fairly new and can be hard to find — it’s only attached to the outlet’s most shared content. The biggest difference from AllSides? No ratings. The module is a list of conversations and thoughts surrounding the content of the piece, not the reporting or writing of the piece itself.

Here’s an example of what appears on the bottom of BuzzFeed’s piece, “President Mike Pence Doesn’t Sound Quite So Bad, Some Top Democrats Say.”

The perspectives are topics of conversation. They each explore deeper aspects of the story that might not have been addressed quite so deeply in the text itself. If you click on them, you can see individual comments.

BuzzFeed News says that they pull the conversations from what is being said about the piece across social media platforms like Twitter and Reddit, among others. They report that the project is an effort to bring “diversity of thought and opinion from around the internet” and “if you don’t see your viewpoint represented,” you can contact the curator by email.

That’s another difference between BuzzFeed’s project and AllSides; It uses a curator rather than crowd-driven research. However, the methodology of both projects are clearly described and displayed to readers.

This is a major difference between these two and an algorithm created and used by Odyssey, a platform aimed at a younger audience. Their method of increasing perspectives is hidden to the reader not searching for it.

The hidden feature suggests articles that offer opposing viewpoints from the article selected by the reader. Here’s an example:

We selected a piece written by a student at Kennesaw State University that was titled, “I Am A Feminist: For Me And For You.”

If we scroll to the bottom of the article, we’re given a list of related content. Some of these relate to the content of our selected piece and are aimed at spreading acceptance of feminism. However the first one appears to be directly opposed to the content of our piece. It’s titled, “Why I Won’t Be Called A Feminist.”

These opposing viewpoint pieces aren’t elevated above other related pieces, but Odyssey thinks the act of putting them helps to democratize content. This algorithm launched in 2016 ahead of the election.

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