look away, look away

Since the election, I’ve been staring off into the distance. On the Thursday after Election Day, I wandered into the French Consulate to ask about long-term visas so that my family would have some kind of an alternative to staying in whatever dystopian nightmare is about to unfold. My avoidance of all social media has been a helpful avoidance tactic, but it also leaves a lot of idle thumb time while using my phone. The News app seems to have become the replacement for my instinct to check social media, and, consequently, I’ve found myself reading more and more news articles about the Trump Transition and the Confirmation Hearings.

This morning, I saw a pair of articles, each written about the same interaction between Betsy DeVos and Bernie Sanders, both bearing hallmark signs of media bias from two different directions. The first alleged that DeVos had schooled Sanders on some basics of economics, wrapping that snarky jab in a single solitary quote from DeVos, omitting any discussion of the actually point of contention (policies that can be pursued to make higher education more affordable), tying a bow on it, and calling it news. The second did much the same from the opposite angle: it borrowed a quote from Sanders asking DeVos whether or not her nomination was merely a reward for major financial contributions to the Republican Party, avoiding any discussion of her qualifications that might be relevant.

A few weeks ago, during that news cycle where nobody could talk about anything other than fake news, and during which time there was a great collective wringing of hands over what could be done about it, I read an article that Le Monde’s fact-checking team, Les Decodeurs, was attempting to crack the way fake news spread and implement an algorithm that might quickly and efficiently identify and, ideally, neutralize fake news. When confronted with the reality of these two biased “articles” – which were no more journalistic than Pravda – I realized that I would love to see a tool to actively undo this kind of bias. I’d love to see something that acted like a filter that un-biased the piece, providing a kind of Google-Translate for thinking human beings everywhere. An algorithm doesn’t even seem so far fetched, when you think of all the loaded terms that get used to clutter journalism with subtle nudges toward the writer’s own agenda. A simple dictionary of commonly used bias terms could be developed that targeted and omitted these terms, or provided substitutions that were less incendiary.

It wouldn’t be a perfect fix, but it would be a significantly better alternative to our current system where competing tribes of propagandists attempt to out-bias each other while telling themselves that they have no choice but to fight fire with fire. When we do that, the world just burns.



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