A chrome extension with an accompanying web application that bursts your bubble & tackles media bias.
Reading the news is overwhelming in today's day and age, given the rise in fake news and clearly biased media sources, and our aim is to burst the bubbles that many of us find ourselves in. Media-consumers choose to stand behind specific outlets and decide which information they see as “true.” As it has many times in the past, today’s media takes advantage of this reality to forward their agendas.
MiddleGround is a browser extension and accompanying web application that helps news readers ascertain media bias and provides centrist and slightly left/right leaning related news articles to help users make their own educated opinions through a holistic lens.
Implicit bias, when we have attitudes towards people or associate stereotypes with them without our conscious knowledge, makes it difficult for reporters to reduce judgment, and confirmation bias allows audiences to cherry-pick information that already echo their sentiments. Confirmation bias is the tendency to search for, interpret, favor, and recall information in a way that confirms one's preexisting beliefs or hypotheses. We don’t perceive circumstances objectively. We pick out those bits of data that make us feel good because they confirm our preconceived notion of how things are supposed to be. A recent Pew Research survey showed that 75% of people around the world want their news to be unbiased, yet 44% say news organizations fail to be fair.
Keeping all of this in mind, we wanted to create a feature that would enable users to make up their own minds, by empowering them to look at a story from different angles through extra contextual information. As noted earlier on, bias has been a feature of the mass media since its birth, but the issue has been aggravated with the advent of social media and the development of powerful algorithms that only feed you news that you want to hear, or rather, that they want you to hear.
According to a Gallup poll:
- 32% say media careful to separate fact from opinion; was 58% in 1984
- 45% see great deal of political bias in news coverage, up from 25% in 1989
- Majority cannot name a source that reports news objectively
When readers are unaware of the bias a news outlet possesses, it is harder for them to separate fact from fiction, and it is harder for them to contextualize the information. Additionally, there’s a psychological aspect to consider as well. Confirmation biases impact how people gather information, but they also influence how people interpret and recall information. If users read a news article that they agree with, knowing the bias of the outlet that is reporting on an issue will help them understand their own worldview and perceptions.
People increasingly perceive the media as biased and struggle to identify objective news sources. They believe the media continue to have a critical role in maintaining a democracy but are not very positive about how the media are fulfilling that role, which is concerning.
When the media adopt loaded terminology, they help shape public opinion. Mass media frame the details of the story and communicate the social desirability of certain ideas, so users need to be aware of the power they have to exploit stories, and what the repercussions of that are.
Another Gallup poll indicates that half of U.S. adults feel confident there are enough sources to allow people to cut through bias to sort out the facts in the news — down from 66% a generation ago, and only twenty-seven percent of Americans say they, personally, are “very confident” that they can tell when a news source is reporting factual news versus commentary or opinion. There seems to be a dire need to make people more confident in identifying biases and misinformation.
User pain point + feedback
Meet Maria, a 30 year old Marketing Coordinator residing in Toronto. She also volunteers for a non-profit human rights group and creates well informed and factual campaigns for their cause. Often she has to go down the “rabbit hole” to find out the biases of her sources and go through relevant articles across the spectrum to get the whole picture, which can be very time consuming. But Maria is happy to take the responsibility to make sure she compiles unpolarized and well-rounded assets.
Landing on the solution
To help alleviate the problems faced by users like Maria, we created a chrome extension, along with an accompanying web application that would help people identify media bias and use multiple sources for news. This would make sure that users are getting the most accurate information, and also makes sure that they can make their own educated opinions. Although bias is an inherent issue within all media outlets, informed readers who read all angles challenge their own beliefs by exposing themselves to views that may make them uncomfortable. Keeping all of this in mind, we wanted to create something that would provide a seamless process for users to be able to navigate between finding the media bias of an outlet, as well as advancing to finding alternative content to broaden their minds.
Explanation of solution
Initially, the user would click on a news article that they want to read. If the user wants to discern the media bias of the news outlet, they would then click on the MiddleGround extension button on the taskbar. The API that we have used for our product includes a variety of news outlets from across the world, mainly focusing on American and British sources. However, we eliminated all sources that lay on the far right or left to avoid encountering extreme language. We’re also looking to build a functionality that allows a small pop-up to hover around the MiddleGround extension icon, so that users can be reminded that they can refer to our product to get the information that they need. After clicking on the extension button, a pop up appears, where in a legend indicating what R,L, and C stand for, which are right, left, and center respectively. Below that, we have a list of the top 3 (fewer if our databases aren’t able to pull up 3) articles by other news outlets that are related to the one they’re currently reading, which they can click on to read. At the very bottom of the extension pop up is a View More button, which if clicked on, then leads our user to our web application.
Once on our web application, our users have the opportunity to type in any keywords or news events that they're interested in reading more about. After the results are displayed, users have the option of filtering them out by their bias, popularity, or date published. Not only does this allow users to understand how different sides perceive events differently, but they can also assess how events have progressed through time with the time-specific filters.
Product Manager Learnings:
I learned that a product can never be great if the product manager lacks a fundamental understanding of how the team operates.
I learned how to maneuver around the constraints of available information during the development process.
I learned the importance of working and collaborating with an actual team instead of solo queueing.
Full Team Learning
Develop a useful solution that effectively translates user needs, while learning and drawing from one another’s expertise and knowledge.