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Public square 2.0

"A lie can travel halfway around the world while the truth is still putting on its shoes."


What would a modern public square look like? Today's blog is a blueprint of my fantasy news source. It doesn't exist yet, but I see it as an idea whose time has come. I will take the criticism of being naive and idealistic but it is no crime to hope for a more informed future.



Background


The journalist adage goes, you can make money by telling the truth to those who want the truth and by telling lies to those who want lies.


It's fair to say journalists have figured out, that we want more opinion that we think we do - and they can make money out of it. It is a struggle to find things that feel well researched and impartial.


This "fix" comes at a cost. We are losing our ability to think critically. Critical thinking is as important as ever, but we have outsourced much of our research and decision-making, especially to tech. This is dangerous! Any mechanism suffers from the deep-rooted “garbage in, garbage out” problem. No matter how smart or impartial your AI technology is, you need good underlying information to draw from. Sadly that means, most of what we read is garbage.  


It’s not enough to just call out the problems, here I propose a blueprint to the solution. I really want YOUR feedback. This is an antidote to the fatalism people have around media, that we must have it the way it currently is.


The vision in 5 pillars

  1. A free-to-access news source that summarises highly rated information on certain topics. Think Wikipedia for news.

  2. Information is provided and moderated by people who have verified identities.

  3. The language and structure applies basic critical thinking. Unemotional language, clearly laid out premises, and conclusions.

  4. Everyone will see the same front page based on worldwide attention. No algorithms point you to personalised material unless requested.

  5. It covers only ‘serious’ topics where there is a differing of opinions. Think science, the environment, wars, immigration, the economy, and government policy. You can read the Telegraph or the Mirror if you want entertainment.

  

What will be different?


To avoid news skewing our worldview and intentionally taking advantage of our cognitive biases we need to have a fresh approach.


1. News articles will have the differing viewpoints well-articulated.


Exposing ourselves to the best arguments from each side with charity will help us understand the nuances better. This will avoid confirmation bias and echo chambers. 


2. Non-sensational language will allow people to have a neutral framing of things.


We need unemotional language. Anything that follows heated language like “terrorists” or “genocidal” will unduly influence readers. If we are looking to inform we need show not tell. Unemotional language avoids priming, anchoring and framing biases.


3. Delineate entertainment and news.


Deal with major national or international stories only. Provision of sports, celebrities, individual crimes, fashion, culture should be dealt with by others. International news and fashion are very different skillsets. Serious news and fashion is the equivalent of an acrobatic surgeon - not many places where those skills intersect. Let's get our advice from the experts in each field.



4. No urgency to rush out new content


If facts do not change, we do not need to hype up small changes. Hyped micro-changes are encouraged due to the 24-hour news cycle. The most relevant not most recent detail is most prominently displayed (avoid recency and availability bias). A slow moving big picture is much more representative of reality than blow by blow accounts of micro-events.


5. Impartial ownership


Billionaires can do more than just throw good parties. They can also buy you the right narrative these days. If you think the news media is an even spattering of views, think again. The key takeaway from the analysis below is that newspapers are very influential and are often majority owned by powerful individuals.


United Kingdom Newspapers

Newspaper

Main beneficial owner

Circulation

Website Traffic (monthly visits)

Bias

The Sun

Murdoch Family

1,210,915

139 million

Right, populist.

The Daily Mail

Rothermere Family

1,426,535

188 million

Right, conservative.

The Metro

Rothermere Family

1,426,535

33 million

Centrist articles, centre-right editorial.

The Times

Murdoch Family

365,880

33million

Centre-right. Conservative.

Evening Standard

Alexander Lebedev

805,454

6.5 million

Centre-right

 

If, in the UK, you have the Murdoch family and the Rothermere family onside, you have an enormous advantage to push your agenda. Three other media influences are quite prominent, which is the BBC, the Telegraph, and the Guardian. These outlets have more online influence than printed media and the BBC and Guardian is seen to be a cultural counterbalance that resonates more with younger people.



This concentration of power amongst right wing billionaires does skew the media picture somewhat. Older people who favour printed newspapers are experiencing an echo chamber of their own. They are more likely to be faced with stories that influence them to think negatively of the Europeann Union, immigration is too high and Net Zero is unachievable or a fraud. The UK is quite an extreme example of political bias, however partisan newspapers is an accepted phenomenon internationally that helps with sales or access to prominent people.


The role of AI in making this happen


I believe AI will be a powerful tool in informative news. Whilst AI can be used to profile and mislead, it can also generalise and summarise. AI will be effective at picking out the subjects which have the biggest narrative divides and those laden with most emotion. I believe that AI directed at helping us attack the biggest information divides will help counter inevitable biases. AI can parse through the stories nationally across the spectrum as well as internationally.


The Public square 2.0 in practice


To make sure that this is more than well-meaning bluster, how can we make this happen?


  1. Front page: Most prominent stories are those that have the most newspaper inches and different takes on it internationally and across the political divide. This part could be determined by AI, trained on newspaper websites of proven editorial quality.

  2. Format: Short articles that highlight i) what is the subject, ii) what is the background, iii) what has actually happened, as verified by reputable sources iv) what that might mean, with a focus on understanding both sides of a dispute. v) what are the most contentious narratives, and whether they accord with the verified sources. New information (over the last 24 hours) will be highlighted.

  3. Article structure: To ensure that people are thinking critically, key conclusions will be supported by underlying premises. This allows people to see the logic and supporting arguments. Language will be intentionally neutral.

  4. Moderation Board: An international editorial board, across the political spectrum will ensure that the standards of reporting maintain its standards of neutrality.

  5. Verified Identities: All content moderators i.e. those that challenge the information, need to have verified accounts, with government IDs and pay monthly contributions. Their proportion of challenges upheld will be tracked to ensure that people are not trying to nudge it incorrectly. This also decreases the risk of coordinated disinformation attacks.

  6. Revenue model: Adverts and limited archive access for those who access the site for free and more premium access to subscribers. If it is non-commercial and requires large donations it makes it vulnerable to editorial sway for large donors, which needs to be avoided.

  7. Ownership model: Keep ownership highly distributed. The board must represent different viewpoints, to avoid leaning.


Public square 1.0 vs Public square 2.0



Challenges


  1. This is unlikely to be the most entertaining read due to the neutral framing. It's main draw is focus on the most divisive issues, but the language of information will not be winning prizes.

  2. There will be natural accusations of bias, and in reality it is impossible to get away from it. That comes with the territory, particularly when there is a large skew in the popular narrative.

  3. Given people think there is already a lot of free information, people might be reluctant to pay for it. Given I am a natural consumer of this and would be willing to pay for , I am for better or worse assuming others will be too.


I think it will work, what do you think?


So what?


  1. Public Square 2.0 is an antidote to our critical thinking crisis. Bias, opinion, and sensationalism undermine our thinking. Importantly it will a commercial enterprise but with distributed ownership.

  2. I envision a free-to-access, Wikipedia-like news source that emphasizes highly rated, unbiased information on serious topics with neutral framing, conducted by verified people. The focus will be on accuracy not immediacy.

  3. The mixture of unemotional language, logical setting out and context, will help people stay anchored in an environment that tries to blow people in one direction.

  4. This is an example of positive Artificial Intelligence. Informing us rather than manipulating us. Identifying the most contentious topics and trying to provide a voice to opposing views.

  5. This effort will solely focus on the most important and contentious news stories, like science, environment, wars, immigration, economy, and government policy. They can leave entertainment to the others.

 

If you want to be a part of this movement, please reach out.

 

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