How do you know whether you can trust the news you're reading online? Sites like Facebook show us articles based on ones we’ve clicked on before, reinforcing our existing views in a way that makes us feel better about our opinions – regardless of accuracy. Rather than challenging us to see things from a different angle, they push us into a bubble that echoes our own thoughts back at us.
The big news sources are starting to take notice. Microsoft recently added a browser extension called NewsGuard to its mobile web browser, which notifies you if you’re visiting a site that’s known for sub-par reporting, and Facebook employs fact-checkers to warn users about fake stories – but you don’t have to rely on the big players acting responsibly. There are also various tools around that can help you decide whether an article is worth your time reading, and whether you can trust what it tells you.
Nobias (opens in new tab) is a free extension for Google Chrome that serves a similar purpose, helping you determine whether the article you’re about to read is trustworthy, and telling you if the site has any noticeable political leaning. It can also estimate how long the story will take to read, helping you manage your time.
“Readers are drowning in so much online information that it is almost impossible to keep track of what is credible and what isn’t,” says Dr Tania Ahuja, CEO of Nobias. “Algorithms create positive feedback loops, only showing us what they think we like. As a result, we are all living in information bubbles, which polarize us against each other and keep us underinformed.”
Ahuja says Nobias’s mission is to protect readers from deceptive or misleading content, help them understand the landscape of media bias, and give them power over the algorithms that shape what they see online.
How it works
Nobias assesses articles for bias from a US perspective, as Ahuja explains: The Nobias Chrome extension assesses political slant of the source drawing from the methodology of Matthew Gentzkow and Jesse Shapiro in Econometrica (2010), which looks at congressional speeches and finds certain keywords said by a Democrat or Republican. Our machine-learning algorithm mines the text to assess a slant towards the left, right, or center.
“Nobias further adds to the source slant, used as a prior, a labeled article corpus from LexisNexis to develop article level slant using widely used machine learning techniques to identify which words are most associated with left or right leaning articles and assign those words as left and right leaning words.”
The extension ranks the credibility of both the publisher and the author. Publishers are given a score between one and five using source rankings from LexisNexis (where ‘one’ is a top national, international or business source, like The Wall Street Journal or The Economist.
Individual authors are assessed based on the credibility of their employer, and whether they have won any prestigious journalism awards (such as a Pulitzer, for example).
Ahuja says the early reaction to Nobias has been very positive, and several users appreciate being able to see articles from a different perspective. One particular user said he didn’t realize how biased his newsfeed had become.
The team are currently working on bringing Nobias to other browsers, including Firefox, Opera and Safari. They are also planning to add premium features and venture into other industries (such as finance and health news), but Ahuja insists that the core feature will remain free.
“[…]Our customer will always remain our number one priority and the political tools we have developed, as well as the extension’s core functionality, will always be free with no advertisements,” she says.
Tools like Nobias can give you a helpful insight into the kind of news you’re reading, but they’re not a one-stop solution for bias and fake news. We asked Ahuja what else we can be doing to make sure we’re seeing the full picture.
“Nobias helps you understand your online choices, but the best way to break out of your filter bubble is to talk with people on different sides of a given issue,” she says. “Using reputable news sources is another way to help ensure you are getting more balanced information about a news item.
“We are not changing news, nor are we controlling how our customers find it or limiting what they read. We are simply enhancing their online browsing experience by providing insights on content before they consume it—to be aware of their biases and read from a variety of reliable sources, to have a holistic view rather than one contained in a bubble. Our mission is to help our customers be proactive about developing their own informed, unique point of view.”