Microsoft's Upcoming News Site Will Rate Media Bias

March 5th, 2008 2:28 PM
Microsoft is taking all of that unnecessary thinking out of the process by pre-chewing your news and spitting it on your plate.

The software giant is developing a new kind of news-aggregator that doesn't just collect news; it determines news stories' ideological bias and “emotional charge.” No longer will you need to wonder if Maureen Dowd has a liberal bias or if NPR injects “emotional charge” into a story about gun control. BLEWS figures it out, so you don't have to!

Microsoft explains “what the blogosphere tells you about news” (all bold mine):

While typical news-aggregation sites do a good job of clustering news stories according to topic, they leave the reader without information about which stories figure prominently in political discourse. BLEWS uses political blogs to categorize news stories according to their reception in the conservative and liberal blogospheres. It visualizes information about which stories are linked to from conservative and liberal blogs, and it indicates the level of emotional charge in the discussion of the news story or topic at hand in both political camps. BLEWS also offers a “see the view from the other side” functionality, enabling a reader to compare different views on the same story from different sides of the political spectrum. BLEWS achieves this goal by digesting and analyzing a real-time feed of political-blog posts provided by the Live Labs Social Media platform, adding both link analysis and text analysis of the blog posts.

Microsoft evaluates a blog's language around the link to the news story to determine the "emotional charge." Will BLEWS rate ideological rhetoric or the level of ranting and hysteria? Most significantly, BLEWS might expose the media bias that many on the right see on a daily basis, although the media will simply dispute the findings, as they have with recent studies.

Microsoft says it bases its classifications on whether a story is linked by a liberal or conservative blog. What about political blogs linking to news stories with which they ideologically disagree? NewsBusters links to many articles with liberal bias. Does that mean that Microsoft will rate those articles as conservative, or will BLEWS be sophisticated enough to tell the difference?

It is uncertain if BLEWS will be just another website or if it will be big enough to influence the media, but the unintended consequences will be interesting to watch. Will it widen the Internet's ideological divide by giving readers a way to pre-screen their news so they don't have to read stories that conflict with their views.

I'm really not sure how accurate blogs' opinions will be in determining bias. There is a theory explained in “The Wisdom of Crowds” that says groups make better decisions than individuals, but the problem with that theory is when the group's trend is negative. “Mobbing,” or bullying and intimidation by a crowd is probably familiar to righties and some libertarians who use the news aggregating site Digg. Diggers often harass those they disagree with and don't show the Wisdom of Crowds that the book describes. The question is, will BLEWS will take after Digg and marginalize the right?

Tech blog Ubergizmo details how BLEWS uses blog opinions to rate the news:

Measuring people’s reputation is one of the trends of the Social Web, and this web application ranks the news according to political blogs opinions. The number of links is displayed for each article on the left side (blue) for the Liberals and on the right side for the Conservatives (red). The level of emotional charge is also displayed using small squares, from one to four (low level to high level). The emotional charge is determined by analyzing the natural language used in the blogs...

Perhaps blogs will try to influence ratings with a BLEWS version of “Google Bombing,” but it won't be long before blogs game the system at BLEWS? Ubergizmo called BLEWS an “Uber-Digg,” but conservative Diggers know their presence on Digg is practically pointless. Instead of a marketplace of ideas at Digg, conservative stories and conservative Diggers' comments are buried so that no one will read them. Will BLEWS be any different?


Lynn contributes to NewsBusters and can be reached at tvisgoodforyou2—A T—y a h o o—D O T—c o m