09 Jan 2020

The Motivation Behind Unslant

An exploration of politics and tech.

When was the last time you went out of your way to explore different perspectives on a news story? If you’re like most people, probably never. In fact, odds are that you’re reading news from the same five sources every day. This is by design: social media recommendation algorithms are built to personalize content based on your interests.

This approach works for cat videos, but when applied to the news, it has an unintended consequence: you only end up reading stories from outlets that you like. This results in a filter bubble: a situation where you’re only consuming information that reinforces your existing beliefs. In a perfect world where news outlets were unbiased, this wouldn’t be so much of a problem. Unfortunately, humans are inherently biased,[1] so it’s no surprise that news outlets, which are made up of humans, are too.[2]

As a result of filter bubbles, people perceive news in completely different ways, and can feel stressed when talking to others who disagree with them.[3] The resulting echo chambers lead to political polarization.

This wouldn’t be an issue if people made the effort to seek out opinions different from their own, but doing so takes cognitive effort. Most people find it easier to regress into their own ideological bubble where everyone agrees with them. Yet breaking out of this bubble is probably not as hard as we think: research shows that people tend to overestimate how negatively they will react to articles that express opposing views.[4]

That’s why I created Unslant, a browser extension that surfaces contrasting takes on news. It uses natural language processing methods to analyze stories you’re reading and pops up whenever it has a high-quality recommendation available. By taking manual effort out of the equation, it makes you far more likely to dive deeper into the larger conversation surrounding the news.

So go ahead and give it a try, and shoot me an email if you have any feedback or want to talk.

  1. Researchers Find Everyone Has a Bias Blind Spot - News - Carnegie Mellon University ↩︎

  2. Of course, this isn’t the only reason outlets can be biased: some exist only to influence public opinion through their reporting. ↩︎

  3. More Now Say It’s ‘Stressful’ to Discuss Politics With People They Disagree With | Pew Research Center ↩︎

  4. Selective exposure partly relies on faulty affective forecasts - ScienceDirect ↩︎

Get more like this in your inbox