A Country Divided

The United States is increasingly polarized, especially when it comes to politics. Since Bill Clinton, Americans have been increasingly divided (see chart below) on how much they approve of their presidents, with today’s administration, with a difference of more than 80% between how much supporters approve vs the opposition party. We also see this in everyday life, with people of differing political beliefs and perceptions being so highly divided that they find it difficult to believe that those with opposing beliefs can hold those beliefs and still be rational, intelligent people. A continuing progression of this trend could lead to alienation, dehumanization, and even social destabilization or at worst, civil war. One of the most important questions surrounding this debate is how we can progress forward as a cohesive society and undo some of the unhelpful and dehumanizing divisions going on today.

Americans are increasingly divided about their presidents. Orange shows approval rates by opposition party, and green shows approval ratings of President’s party (grey are independents).

The Role of News Echo Chambers

There has been an increasing proliferation of online news and websites that serve readers similar news to what they are already interested in or reading in a search for clicks, which websites use to get paid. This has led to silos of information, and news outlets that report similar stories in a similar way to get views, But this can give people a very narrow view of the world, and create ‘echo chambers’ where they see reinforcing opinions of others who are in the same silo. While this can lead to a sense of community, it can also lead to alienation from people who have differing beliefs. Because those within the echo chamber share a similar set of interpretations based on the same information they view about events and the world in general, they may feel alienated or frustrated with others who don’t have the same set of interpretations, and instead share an opposing set of interpretations based on different information. Without similar, shared information, we cannot have a shared, similar interpretation of the world, and therefore will find it difficult to have a rational and meaningful debate about how we react to events, and make plans for a shared vision of the future.

An Antidote to Echo Chambers

We need to share common information to understand each other’s perspectives, and have meaningful, productive conversations and debates about where we will guide our country in the future, as well as how we prioritize and react to events as we move forward in time. This type of productive debate is the foundation of a healthy democracy. Given the current situation we find ourselves in, what is needed is the ability to see what each other are seeing, and to be able to see through the narratives that are offered by news outlets that only offer a limited point of view. Spectrum Report was created to be the anecdote to this challenge that we face today. It seeks to provide information from a spectrum of news outlets to help readers understand where people with opposing opinions are coming from, so that they can engage in more meaningful and productive conversations about events, news, and where we take our collective future. Spectrum does this in several ways:

  • News Spectrum – we present you with an array of news perspectives so you can see what they are focusing on and how they tell their stories.
  • Search Topics – by searching topics of interest, you can see how a particular topic is represented differently across the spectrum, and see fact-checking analysis of the topic and recent claims made about it
  • Word clouds – word clouds show you what is being presented regularly throughout an article, or by a news outlet so you can see patterns arise, especially concerning particular topics
  • Sentiment Analysis – this feature uses machine learning to extract the emotional tone of the article you are reading, topic you search for, or the outlets you read, so you can see how they are conveying the news to you, and how they may want you to feel about it
  • Outlet Reports – these reports show you how the different outlets are reporting across all topics, so that you can understand the themes and tone they convey, as well as have fact-checking at your fingertips
  • Headline Guessing Game – fine tune your ability to guess which news outlet the headline came from, and have fun doing it, with this game.

We hope that by providing these tools, readers will be more empowered, informed, and understanding when they engage with people of different beliefs. We also hope that they use these tools to help bring more enlightened and productive arguments to the debates they are sure to have as they meet people outside of their echo chamber.

See more at Spectrum Report.

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