Trying to eliminate the Internet noise during political season seems almost impossible.
Myriad news stories from multiple news sources float around in cyberspace. Blathering political pundits on television and radio spew their opinions const
antly, with what seems to be little regard for truth or objectivity. Fact-checkers desperately try to keep up with the claims and falsehoods tossed around by politicians and their political mouthpieces.
All the while, claims of bias flow from both sides of the political spectrum. The public constantly hears about the “lamestream” media, about a left-wing bias, or that the conservative right tries to discredit the media so it can promote a social agenda that is frightening to some.
A person must sift through all of this to find the answers necessary to be an informed voter come Election Day. It’s a difficult job, almost impossible. The result, for many, is to find one source to trust, one source that gives all the information a person needs and one source he or she agrees with. This process can make a voter even less knowledgeable about what is happening as the election nears.
Enter allsides.com. Allsides.com is a search engine that provides a filter for the barrage of media coverage that comes from political elections. The new website claims to take no political side. With help from a bias rating engine, the site identifies bias from across the political spectrum and provides news from the left, right and center.
“There is so much noise, so much chaos out there,” said John Gable, founder of Allsides.com. “So many people go to one place for all of their news. They go to a site that gives them something they agree with and like. When that happens, we become less knowledgeable and less educated as an electorate, because we are going to one place.”
Gable began his professional career as a political adviser. He later migrated to the Internet, where he worked for Netscape. He came up with the idea of allsides.com when he would try to help his friends figure out how to vote on initiatives that popped up on California ballots. Gable would research the initiatives and write up pamphlets that described them to his friends.
“I tried to be as balanced as I possibly could,” Gable said. “I would try my damnedest to make these pamphlets as distinct and unbiased as I could.”
Some of his friends liked what they read; others thought he was bringing his own bias into the story. That brings up the problem of bias: Writers have their own life experiences that affect their stories.
“I don’t think there is such a thing as unbiased,” Gable said. “Some media folks do their best to cover this as fairly as possible. I don’t think you can do it.”
It doesn’t just come from the writers or news organizations. Individuals carry their own sets of bias on issues. How they perceive what they read is just as important as what they read.
That’s why allsides.com’s bias engine is based on “crowd source” technology. The engine starts by getting a read on a person’s individual bias. People are asked to fill out a survey that determines their political bias, from far right to far left. Once that’s done, people are asked to read a news story and rate the story, or the headline, on the same scale. This provides a baseline for the bias engine.
“What we get is a representation of how people view news sources – and, eventually, writers,” Gable said. “The average of the ratings of an article or news source gives us our bias rating.”
Allsides.com has only been live since Aug. 26, so Gable is piggybacking some of his data off UCLA research that examined bias in certain newspapers and sources.
“It’s getting better and better,” Gable said. “It’s dynamic. It’s kind of continuing.”
The result has been a site that gives readers a look at different sources for each story. One story is a left version, one is a center version, and one is a right version.
“It gives you a chance to see different viewpoints, all at one source,” Gable said. “I saw the chaos and the noise, and I knew that people look at bias as a bad thing. I don’t. I see bias as a good thing. I just think you need to see different points of view to make a good decision. I took a search-engine approach. Let’s filter the process.”
Gable’s goal is to help build a more educated America.
“I’m Jeffersonian,” Gable said. “I believe that a populous that’s educated can govern itself. But with so much noise, we’re less educated, more polarized than we were in the Revolutionary War or the Civil War. We don’t listen to what other people say. Our brains are wired to ignore people who are different than us.”
Although allsides.com is still in beta mode, Gable believes it needs to go live before the election. As the site grows, more forms of news will be placed under the bias engine’s microscope.
“We’re going to be covering issues like health, education, finance and a number of other things,” Gable said.
Gable envisions the day when allsides.com can be a source for many people who want to research controversial issues of the day. Those looking for answers could find them easily and from all angles by heading to the site.
For those looking for bias in the allsides.com makeup, results are easy to find.
“We try to make sure that we are represented by all different sides of the political field,” Gable said.
His team all took the bias quiz, and their results are posted for all to see. Gable leans right.
“We made it open,” he said. “We made it transparent. It’s all driven by the crowd. The staff is evenly left, center, right, across the board. We consciously made sure we have a diverse source of opinions.”