How we tried to build a video tree

Instead of going out there to source YouTube videos and Twitter posts, we decided to create a new tool to source content that helps people better understand others in all parts of the world.

Before online news and social media (yes, there was a ‘before’—weird right?) people stayed updated by reading print copies of local or national newspapers. The newspapers had editors who curated material and aimed to show a diversity of content. Readers would stumble upon whatever news stories were included.

Now, readers are able to seek out news. News websites personalize news for the particular readers. Many readers say they ‘get their news’ through social media sites. Personalization and social media lead to often-discussed ‘echo chambers’ or ‘filter bubbles’, e.g. exposing people to repeated articles carrying political views that align with their own.

Attempts have been made to make people care about global news. News editors often want to include more global news, but need to meet the demands of the readers. They are confronted to very tangible barriers, as simple as the language barrier. Global Voices is a site for citizen media reporting from 167 countries, co-founded by Ethan Zuckerman that aims at overcoming the language obstacle by providing translations.

There’s another problem. We argue that we should pay attention to what is happening elsewhere in the world, and particularly in countries that are socioeconomically and culturally different from our own. We also think that it is only by reaching out to people who are different and by trying to understand conflicting points of view that we will be able to foster a news ecosystem within which people can mutually understand one another. Initiatives to increase communication between people holding different political opinions have recently taken place, for example in the state of Washington. A group from a highly Democrat county simply drove down to the most Republican county of the State to have a face to face conversation with the people who voted exactly opposite of what they did. (https://theevergrey.com/took-10-hour-road-trip-cross-political-divide-heres-happened/)

We believe that these face to face interactions are important to create empathy and a deeper understanding of issues. However, face to face interactions are not always possible, for geographical reasons for example. Or simply because sometimes our circles of friends are people who share similar views and daily experiences. How might we encourage people to reach out to others in a way that encourages asking questions and listening? How might we engage all parties, so that rather than passively reading news about an event at a distant location, people are reaching out to those locations and asking questions?

We propose a new kind of community—one where community members answer any question that someone else has asked previously, and then contribute by asking a new question. Responses are submitted as videos, because, as we just stated, videos are human and induce empathy. Over time, the sequence of videos constitutes a tree, spanning responses from all around the world. This is the tree of global connection.

What might a tree of global connection look like? Well, we went ahead and created a prototype.

http://manyshades.herokuapp.com/.

Landing page

Submitting a video 

 

Okay, so taking aside some of the fluff:  We have a thing that lets people submit YouTube links and then displays them on a website.

We had fun making the website (aside: we had quite a laugh when writing “gray” with a green font), but the website now does not communicate the vision that we have articulated in this blog post. These are some steps to improve the website to better meet its purpose:

  1. Certainly:  
    1. Instead of listing the videos one by one in a row, display the videos in a tree graph to show how questions and answers are connected.
    2. Determine a name, slogan, and symbol.
    3. Tag each video, enable browsing by tag, each tag having its own tree graph
    4. Miscellaneous:  Additional effort for users to upload video to YouTube; There’s no verification that users submit YouTube videos that they have personally uploaded; We’re currently using an MIT video for the banner; We’re using a heroku domain
  2. Maybe:  Implement geolocation and a map view, and show the trail of the question-answer “ball” being passed around touching different areas of the world.

Further, while we tried to post a link to the website on Reddit and, we need to gauge interest from a wider audience and engage with people who might potentially use this tool.

In the end, to more properly reconnect our project to the assignment, we think this tool could be used for people to ask questions about world events they cannot witness in person, and that they have trouble understanding. Through these short videos, users could create question chains on all issues going around the world and create a deeper understanding of news events that can tend to be stripped from personality.

The tree layout would enable users to have an overall view on each issue, and to quickly find answers to the questions they are asking themselves and respond to what they feel they can add knowledge to.

 

— Katrine and Marie.

Décodex: on Classifying News Sources and Fact-Checking Fact-Checkers

On February 1st, the biggest daily newspaper in France, Le Monde, launched an initiative to combat fake news and biased information sources called « Décodex ». Or at least try to.

Décodex is made of several components. It consists in a search engine, Mozilla and Chrome add-ons, a Facebook Bot and pedagogical documentation on how to be a more careful online news reader. It catalogues 600 websites and classifies them according to their « reliability ». I put the term in quotation mark, as this reliability is assessed by the team building the tool, team called Les Décodeurs. Les Décodeurs is a branch of Le Monde specialized in data journalism and fact checking headed by Samuel Laurent.

Firefox add-on: -What does it mean? A barely reliable website propagating conspiracy theories. -Is this website reliable? This website regularly features fake news or misleading articles. Be careful and look other more reliable sources. If possible, look for the origin of the information.

The tool has a straightforward – yet arguably unattainable – ambition: verify if a website is, or not, reliable. It can be used by journalists, but also by anyone reading an article online. Its functioning is very simple, perhaps even too simplistic. You, curious yet naive reader (until now) surf the web, end up on a website, click on the Décodeurs extension that will give you one of the 5 following answers concerning the visited website’s credibility:

From Top to Bottom: [GREY] – Warning, this website is not a source, or its reliability is too variable to fit our criterias. To know more, look for other sources and the origin of the information. [BLUE] – Warning, this is a satirical website that is not made to propagate real information. It is a second degree read. [RED] – This website regularly propagates fake news or misleading articles. Beware and look for other more reliable sources of information. If possible, look for the origin of the information. [YELLOW] – This website can regularly be imprecise, not giving information about its sources and not conducting regular fact checking. If possible, search for the origin of the information. [GREEN] – This website is considered as reliable. Do not hesitate to confirm the information by looking for other reliable sources or the origin of the information.

The Facebook bot version leads to the following user experience:

In many instances, you will end up clicking on the link to the documentation, and learn how to find the original source of an information, and how to cross check what you are reading. If the website is not classified yet, you can also report it to the Décodex Team.

This documentation is, to me, the most innovative part of the tooI. I had never heard of any team in a newspaper sitting down to write proper guidelines to information search and evaluation. Perhaps because there are no definite guidelines, but I find the effort legitimate and fair in the current state of the industry, as social medias are blurring the line between fake and truth. At the heart of the Décodex initiative is the will to give the power back to the people and avoid the propagation of erroneous information. As they put it themselves, the tool represents « a first step towards mass checking information ». Hence, a democratization of the ability to identify what is reliable, and what is not. However, a first critique can already be made when looking at the Décodex classification. Websites categorized as « reliable » are mainly mainstream medias ( Le monde, NYT, CNN, etc…). Is it because you are an independent blogger that you are unreliable? Not necessarily, would I argue, but Décodex’s answer to this question is yes.

Additionally, the very existence of this tool triggers concerns. First of all, many websites, especially some that are considered as being on the right side of the political spectrum, have fired back at the initiative as some were classified by Décodex as « biased » newsources. Le Figaro rightfully asked the question « who will fact check the fact checkers? », and this is, I think, important: how can one claim, as Décodex seems to be doing, that she is completely unbiased, hence has the aptitude to judge others’ biases? How can one claim her classification of reliable sources is the « right one », that everyone should abide by? What prevents other sources to build the same tool, and classify the first classifier as non reliable in retaliation?
In some instances, however, the classification can hardly be argued. The Onion, for example, is classified as being parodic: everyone knows and acknowledges that The Onion is a satirist « news source ». The editors of the publication acknowledge it themselves and that is the very essence of their editorial line. The entire « not fully reliable category », is vague on purpose and encompasses platforms from breitbart.com to Russia Today. It seems hard to find generalized and cross cutting definitions of what makes a website enter this category.

Another important problem with this tool is the following: are the people who tend to share and read fake news going to use it? As a tool built by the mainstream media that is Le Monde, and the media undergoing an unprecedented credibility and trust crisis, is the initiative going to be considered as having enough credibility? Or is it going to be judged as biased and be a subject of an even more intense criticism? Is it going to be truste or not? Can it be relied on? A large amount of articles have been released criticizing the Décodex classification. Which brings in the big question: does Décodex even make a difference?

Marie’s bio

Hi everyone!

My name is Marie Patino, and I’m an undergrad at MIT, more specifically an exchange student from France where I study at Sciences Po. Originally I am a social sciences / political sciences major which involves a bunch of reading and criticizing but rarely building anything, at least not at the undergrad level.
Which is also why I am here, as I would really like to take advantage of the class to learn how to build things. After a semester at MIT, I now know how to open a terminal. Well, maybe a little bit more.

Random interests: long feature journalism, radio ( not even podcasts, more like the radio in general), sociology, photography, writing, Swedish thrillers, Wes Anderson movies, Benedict vs OttersNicolas Cage memes and the ncage extension.

Also, I am interested in just learning and discovering everything outside my field – and inside it that I don’t know yet. I am very excited to be in class with you all, can’t wait to get to know you better, and work together.

You can follow me here: @mariepastora. Sometimes my feed is in French because our Presidential elections are being incredibly messy at the moment. Which means that I share a lot of articles about the candidates and complain about how corrupted some of them are.