Producing A Shared Reality

A major element in the rightwing attack on “Fake News” is the assertion that platforms like Google and Facebook skew to the left, that they privilege liberal results.

Scholars and journalists, for their part, worry about the “filter bubble”–the use of sophisticated algorithms to target individuals with information that is consistent with their pre-existing biases.

A recent study focused on Google provides some reassurance on both counts.  

Google News does not deliver different news to users based on their position on the political spectrum, despite accusations from conservative commentators and even President Donald Trump. Rather than contributing to the sort of “echo chamber” problem that critics fear have plagued Facebook and other social media networks, our research has found that Google News algorithms recommended virtually identical news sources to both liberals and conservatives. That’s an important point to keep in mind when evaluating accusations that Google News is biased.

Our findings are part of an ample and growing body of research on this question. Online services – including Google’s regular search function – may provide intensely personalized information. But media scholars like us have found that when it comes to news, search engines and social media tend to lead people not to a more narrow set of sources, but rather to a broader range of information. In fact, we found, Google News is designed to avoid personalized search results, intentionally constructing a shared public conversation based on traditional criteria of journalistic values.

The construction of that public conversation is critically important. As the eminent media historian Paul Starr has observed, “journalism isn’t just about uncovering facts and framing stories; it is about assembling a public to read and react to those stories.” In other words, there is a crucial difference between an audience and a public.

Journalism in a democratic system is about more than dissemination of news; it’s about the creation of shared awareness. It’s about enabling citizens to occupy the same reality.  It’s about facilitating meaningful communication. As the information environment continues to fracture into smaller and more widely dispersed niches, many of us worry that we are in danger of losing the common ground upon which public communication and discourse depend.

When cities had one or two widely-read newspapers, residents were at least exposed to the same headlines, even if they didn’t read the articles. When large numbers of Americans tuned in to Walter Cronkite or to his competitors on one of the other two networks, they heard reports of the same events. If today’s citizens do not encounter even that minimal amount of shared information, if different constituencies access different media sources and occupy incommensurate realities, the concept of a public becomes meaningless.  Informed debate becomes impossible.  In that sort of fractured and fragmented environment, how do citizens engage in self-government?

If I say this is a table, and you insist it’s a chair, how do we come to an agreement about its use?

I hope this study, and the others it cites, are right–and that Americans retain enough of a common language and share enough of a common reality to qualify as a “public.”

 

10 thoughts on “Producing A Shared Reality

  1. Einstein told us 60 years ago that voters were unable to differentiate the truth from the false and generally voted against their own self interests.

    Google uses cookies to “customize user experiences.”

    Do a Google search for Harley motorcycles or a pair of boots and then hop on Facebook. See what kind of ads you’ll see.

    Without delving into this study, Google’s parent, Alphabet, owns YouTube. Many journalistic outlets relied on revenues generated by people watching their videos to learn about topics of interest. Alphabet demonetized their sites. This occurred to sites on the left and right.

    It happened around the same time the government handed lists of sites to FB and Twitter needing scrubbed. Our government also ordered Russia Today to register as a foreign agent.

    Political bias is one thing. Censorship is another. We have entered the censorship phase of failing democracy.

    The “leaders” have failed to convince the public that we are its strength. All the facts and evidence point to a thriving 1% and a struggling 99% along with a planet which is crying out for help while U.S. leaders are paid by fossil fuel companies to ignore/deny.

    The public remains deeply divided because their bias is being used against them to divide. This divide and conquer has been used for eons.

    It’s called oppression. When democracies fail, the rulers have to oppress. As your boy Sasse started yesterday, the shifting of power to the executive branch or away from congress is a clue. Only certain people have access to our POTUS. They do stop occasionally and pose for pictures with the public. Lol

  2. “If today’s citizens do not encounter even that minimal amount of shared information, if different constituencies access different media sources and occupy incommensurate realities, the concept of a public becomes meaningless.”

    Indianapolis daily newspapers, Star and News, have always been privately owned and somewhat right-leaning; never more than in recent years. The long defunct Indianapolis Times, was more middle-of-the-road if I remember correctly. Gannett, Inc., now owns the Indianapolis Star (News now defunct); the right-leaning more pronounced. After purchasing USA Today, Gannett added a daily insert of the 4-6 page Reader’s Digest issue of that publication to our daily Star. Oddly enough, this addition has resulted in far less national and international news in either and both sections. Did the study of Google and Facebook take into consideration the lack of reported news, not the amount, but the issues which were omitted?

    Last Wednesday, after that “Mr. Toad’s Wild Ride” Tuesday, no reporting in the Star and an article about the Kavannaugh “hearing” was on page 3 of the USA Today insert, no reporting in either of the op-ed in the NYT from a member of the White House insider Resistance or the Bob Woodward book. Today; the day of the book release, our USA Today insert had a lengthy front page article, “Woodward goes back to his reporting roots” with a large color photo. Long ago I stopped looking for national and international print news here; I rely on MSNBC, CNN, Sheila’s blog, Facebook and do research for details and facts on Google. But…there are many in this city, and around this country, who do NOT have cable TV and who do NOT have computers with access to news sources. They must rely on local newscasts which are sadly lacking.

    “Journalism in a democratic system is about more than dissemination of news; it’s about the creation of shared awareness.”

    Journalism is also about more than Google and Facebook but the electronic age has become a ruling monster in our lives. It is more than our daily newspapers and daily newscasts on TV and radio; it has also become an outlet for abusing our 1st Amendment right of freedom of speech and freedom of the press as “press” in its original reference in the Constitution becomes more obsolete almost daily. And corporations are doing their best to force us to use mobile phones to conduct business matters and to go to “paperless” bill payment by agreeing to automatic deductions from bank accounts.

    “Producing A Shared Reality” also brings into play the current economic situation in this country where many do not have, cannot afford to have, or choose NOT to have, access to the electronic form of media. The law has not caught up with the abuses of and by these forms of electronic control. Truth, as Trump and his insiders see it, is the reigning form of news today and no one is stopping them.

    VOTE BLUE!

  3. the best journalism,is from both sides,of the same subject matter… though i tend to seek, certain subjects on left leaning sites,i do not, overrun my personal hardrive into too many corners.my subjects of constant survalience,civil rights,wages,workers rights and jobs. corprate meddling, and wall street greed,and growth over the workers needs. trump is a punk, no issue there..the republicans on the otherhand,sign everything they screw us out of,or plan to.. so, thats easy asses. i dont see fake news,but,im constantly told by those who read only headlines, yes sally, i work for a living and have to deal with this daily…when confronted,i just say,where the hell did that come from, usually, bar room chatter..or some social media,troll who has his buddies ear… no I do not,or will i ever engage in social media beyond this site.as prefering social intervention over good read,i prefer good ear.. i enjoy reading how some well eduacated people engage and talk about various subjects with past readings and experiences,we the working class dont see,or hear…thanks. im sort of between the lines,i do read alot,and its mainly whats next… news journalism, American style,there is nothing like it,or more entertaining…. now theres some transcripts and past article to cue on,,, i wish you all a fine and knowlegeable day,,

  4. From the above: > Scholars and journalists, for their part, worry about the “filter bubble”–the use of sophisticated algorithms to target individuals with information that is consistent with their pre-existing biases.<

    These human targets are not only on the Internet but also are part of the marketing scheme of the so-called "News Networks" like CNN, MSDNC, and Faux News. Each network has identified a target audience and skews their "News" to validate pre-existing biases . Today the "News Networks" offer up only their infotainment as it relates one way or another to President Agent Orange and Pastor Pence.

    This marketing scheme of all things must focus on President Agent Orange and Pastor Pence. It is a cheap way to do business. The infotainers, whether it is Chris Matthews or Tucker Carlson (Two of the most obnoxious hosts) gather up a panel of pundits in the studio or teleconference and proceed to drone on and on and provide the spin to reach their pre-destined conclusion, all of this of course maintains the triangulation.

    No stories will be aired about the millions of people who go bankrupt every year because of medical bills.

    It is 9/11 and I am sure there will be plenty of flag waving – but will this story have legs:
    'A cesspool of cancer' – 17 years on from 9/11, health crisis worsens.
    Thousands who lived or worked in lower Manhattan were exposed to toxic fumes and particles from the destroyed towers.

    The head of the EPA at the time, Christine Todd Whitman, has admitted she was wrong to assure the public that the air around Ground Zero was safe. As far as I can find Whitman did not have a shred of a scientific background that would have qualified her to head the EPA. https://www.theguardian.com/us-news/2018/sep/10/911-attack-ground-zero-manhattan-cancer

    Anyone with a functioning brain should have figured out that the dust, soot, and fires were creating a toxic chemical brew.

  5. Sheila,

    “If I say this is a table, and you insist it’s a chair, how do we come to an agreement about its use?”

    “I hope this study, and the others it cites, are right–and that Americans retain enough of a common language and share enough of a common reality to qualify as a “public.””

    Trump’s base, their family, and friends, which amounts to about half of America, could care less about a common language or a common reality, at this point of time.

    Maintaining white supremacy is their overriding consideration. If there is an answer, it lies in this direction, and it won’t come, from just talking it over.

  6. “Anyone with a functioning brain should have figured out that the dust, soot, and fires were creating a toxic chemical brew.”

    Monotonous; of course people working in that toxic mess at the time knew and it soon became public knowledge. But; like Katrina and the levee collapse resulting in that toxic chemical brew which flooded much of the Gulf Coast…health care could deny coverage to prevent an unknown number of deaths due to the results being “pre-existing conditions”. Few of those in the New Orleans and surrounding areas could afford health care before the disaster and less chance of affording medical care after the fact. We still don’t have a valid death count from there; we will never know the valid death count from either disaster…both of which were preventable toxic death traps.

    Nuclear war here or a preemptive strike by us used to be a preventable disaster but not today…or tomorrow or next week.

    VOTE BLUE!

  7. Do filter bubbles matter in the age of Trump? If I see a positive story about Trump, I fight to control my gag reflex long enough to determine whether there is something new in the report or whether it is simply Fox News or Breitbart sounding off. I suspect most Trump supporters show even less restraint and move on immediately. I’ve yet to meet a Trumper who could (or who felt any obligation to) argue in favor of his views. In my experience, they are impervious to facts, even those that show that Trump is damaging them personally (the brand new Volvo factory in SC just announced it is halting shipments to China and cutting back on hiring) due to the tariff wars. Yet SC would vote Republican if Trump walked down Market Street in Charleston with a machine gun blasting. How is this not a form of sado-masochism? The fealty they decline to show to democracy in general and the U.S. in particular reveals that their sympathies lie elsewhere, perhaps with an autocratic form of government. Reaching out has a lower probability of return than ever before, but it is still worth attempting on the chance that some uncommitted voter is listening. We can never stop trying to communicate our ideas and our logic – it’s all we’ve got. But the willing acceptance of administration efforts to bring the U.S. in line with Putin’s policies suggest that what we are really confronting is a mental health problem.

    I see few signs of Americans coming to share a common reality, but Trump’s popularity rating of 38% may offer some hope. Let’s see how he holds up under the pressure of the hurricane that is about to decimate several states and possibly put unimaginable pressure on his government.

  8. Amen Terry Munson

    I have had quite a lot of interaction with Trumpers. Facts are the last thing they are interested in, even, as Terry points out, when they point to actions Trump has taken that damage them personally.

    Marv says that “Maintaining white supremacy is their overriding consideration.” I would add his statement is true even though some of them may not be aware enough to recognize it!

    One additional item: Some of the Google/Yahoo/FB adds are simply a waste of time. I bought a pair of shoes recently and since then my feeds have been barraged by shoe ads. Silly! I already have the shoes!

  9. I would have a hard time proving this but it’s my impression that Google will use input from users to direct advertising for goods but not for delivering news.

    I personally have had no trouble finding news facts as compared to opinion on media. The two things are easily distinguishable.

    Most people don’t want news, they want bias confirmation.

  10. This same principle is at work regarding education in this country today. With the demise of public education, we move toward schools that are tailored to the prejudices of the families they serve, essentially legalizing discrimination. But this also means that students are being taught differing bodies of knowledge. Public schools once required courses on history, social studies, civics and government, so that there was common understanding. Schools also taught science. now, there are private, religion-based schools, funded by taxpayer dollars, teaching creationism, demonizing science, leaving out civics and teaching political biases. My friend who attends a local Catholic school was told be her science teacher that anyone who didn’t vote for Trump is going to hell.

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