My background is in data science — I started my career helping Walmart find unique ways to apply their data to solve different business problems.
I cofounded Bitpress shortly after the explosion about misinformation in the 2016 election began to surface. I began to understand just how significant a problem misinformation was, and how critical it is that we figure out a solution.
At Bitpress, we’ve created a data science platform that scrapes and analyzes the majority of the English speaking news, roughly 50,000 news articles a day. We’ve developed algorithms for rating the importance, and tracking the credibility of news at the article, story, and publisher level.
Concerns around “fake news” on social platforms is currently at an all time high, and the insights we’ve uncovered at Bitpress have led us to advise companies like Facebook, Google News, YouTube, Reddit, and the MIT Media Lab on credibility and misinformation in the news ecosystem.
This is the core idea behind Bitpress: each media organization has an agenda, but they don’t have the SAME agenda. I can be sure the interests of the Washington Post and Fox News are entirely independent, and when they agree it’s a powerful indicator.
Since we’ve started analyzing the news system, we have uncovered some things that I wasn’t expecting. Probably the most shocking is that misinformation isn’t the sole domain of Alt-right and fringe news sites. We have caught nearly every major news outlet printing misinformation, and not just trivial points, but significant mistakes.
I think the thing that has become exceedingly clear is that many of these organizations do not have their readers’ best interests in mind. They do things like use emotionally loaded headlines, omit or present information out of context, and in the most extreme cases, print outright falsehoods. Much of their content is designed to invoke anger and fear, not to inform their readers.
Unfortunately due to the sensationalist nature of the most egregious offenders, they often do the best on social media platforms like Reddit. More moderate and objective takes on a story often take a back seat to more extreme and sensational versions.
The media has fractured into two distinct groups. Each one refuses to concede any ground, confident that the other group is not only wrong but consists solely of fanatics that cannot be reasoned with. As a result, we have become more ideologically divided than ever before.
With each sensationalist story, one side paints their opposition as untrustworthy and undebatable, attempting to undermine their readers’ trust in the media from the conflicting side. Unsurprisingly, this appears to be working. A recent Knight Foundation study shows Republicans and Democrats have wildly different ideas about which news organizations are trustworthy.
All this data raises the question: How polarized can we become before we, as a country, start to see adverse effects?
I don’t think that anyone wants to be manipulated, and I think if the public had the chance to look behind the curtain to see some of the tactics these editors are using, they would see just how much harm is being done.
If you’re as interested in saving freedom as I am, please vote and comment on my SXSW PanelPicker® proposal.