You’ve probably heard that there’s an election going on in America at the moment. You’ve also possibly heard that the web, and more importantly social media are set to play a crucial role in the election. Nary a day goes by when we don’t hear stories of how Obama or Romney are triumphing on this social platform or other.
Whilst the web offers up the potential for an incredibly wide and varied array of news and political debate, a big part of me suspects that many of us simply consume that which already aligns with our political point of view. We purposfully hunt out the partisan rather than the impartial. Whilst it may affirm out existing point of view it does little to really improve our understanding of the political landscape, which if we’re going to vote sensibly is pretty important.
A new plug-in for Chrome may provide the answer to this problem. It’s called Balancer, and aims to ensure that the news we consume is as balanced as possible.
The tool was developed by the University of Washington and it works by analysing your online reading habits for a month, before calculating the political bias in your choice of reading material. Based on this it then offers up suggestions of alternative sites that could help provide a more balanced perspective.
“I was a bit surprised when I was testing out the tool to learn just how slanted my own reading behavior was,” developer Sean Munson says.
“Even self-discovery is a valuable outcome, just being aware of your own behavior. If you do agree that you should be reading the other side, or at least aware of the dialogue in each camp, you can use it as a goal: Can I be more balanced this week than I was last week?”
The site has around 10,000 news websites in its database, ranging from far left to far right. For some popular sites it goes as far as classifying individual columists if their views differ from the overall publication
As more people use the app it attempts to learn from the reading habits of its users, suggesting sites that are proving popular with people with a different bias to yourself. Users are guided in their reading by a cute graphic showing a tightrope walker navigating the line between right and left.
Will it actually change peoples behaviours and voting habits? Time will tell, but it’s certainly a nice attempt at alerting us to the inherent bias in our choice of reading.