News Sniffer Bias

Sunday, October 22nd, 2006 at 11:01 pm

In drumming up some more attention for News Sniffer, I e-mailed the Biased-BBC blog which then linked us in a posting. Some comments on their post brought up the issue of News Sniffer Bias. Here is a quick response I put together:


I designed News Sniffer in order to help uncover bias in whatever form. I do have what might be described as “lefty” ideals, but I have no intention of fiddling the results (though the irony of the situation would not be lost on me :)

I guess my bias does show in which news organisations I’ve chosen to monitor (BBC, The Guardian, The Independent). All generally regarded as the “liberal” media.

News Sniffer’s current recommendation system is flawed though and very much open to bias. For example, if only smelly lefties visit the site and vote on censored comments and revisions then top recommended stuff will very likely be left-leaning.

I’m looking to replace this with more of a categorisation system, where users tag things with keywords rather than vote.

Additionally, I plan to release the code of the program under a free software license. This will allow anyone (with the know-how) to run their own News Sniffer and monitor their own news sources. Then people don’t *have* to trust me.

Whether you like it or not, it’s undeniable that there are valid topics that are completely unmentionable in *any* of the corporate media. Media Lens investigates some great examples of these. I hope that News Sniffer will help find examples of the bias towards this, whether considered in favour of the “Left” or “Right”.

At the end of the day, censorship in my favour is still censorship. News Sniffer is supposed to be about exposing censorship, not creating more of it.

8 responses to “News Sniffer Bias”

  1. James of England says:

    Just wanted to say thank you. This is a wonderful site, and sorely needed. I’ve argued for a long time that the Beeb needed to keep its past revisions like wikipedia does. That that would do more than any number of Editor’s Blogs and such to encourage honesty. This is not quite there, but it is a big step in the right direction, probably as big as can be made by anyone other than the Beeb itself. Really made my day. Again, thank you.

  2. Schoolboy Error says:

    How long do you think it will be before something like this will be available with speech recognition,please?I believe the BBC indulges in social engineering (see introduction of term ‘lone parent’ to replace the term in common everyday usage ‘single parent’).It would be great to get early notice of these PC inspired impositions at an early stage and flag them up.I first heard ‘Tory’ used on a BBC radio news broadcast in (mid)1996.It then transferred to BBC television news broadcasts with increasing frequency up to the 1997 election.The ongoing problem is that Labour/New (improved) Labour are used differently to suit the context of the report:Labour when discussing ‘traditional socialist values’ and New (improved) Labour when reporting items containig ‘the party’s vision for the future’.Do you think something that could detect these biased usages could be available before the next election?(Ideally including the speech recognition).

  3. Andrew says:

    Interesting idea. The “joy” of the internet is that it makes revisions more noticable. In a newspaper, you simply don’t know what changes have happened – what people have been up to before you read it. On a TV, unless you’re very clever, you’ll never keep track of the changes. Of course people may well read into some of the revisions, stuff which isn’t there in reality. But so what? Both sides of an argument could take the same revision and portray it in different ways. Debate is healthy.

    If I may make a request – what I’d like is to see the flip side. What is deemed to be the left wing press (I say “deemed” because I will not judge) always gets picked on for this kind of thing, but what is deemed to be the right, rarely is. Which is why I personally would like to see the right exposed as well – equality for both sides :)

  4. M says:

    It’s great that the BBC is scrutinized in this way, so that it can remain the best global news source. I’m not sure if adding lots of right-wing news sites is necessary as many would fall down on bias based on the main body of the content, rather than just the changes and corrections.

  5. Donald Shelley says:

    At first I thought this was rather clever. Now I think this is all rather silly and childish. The idea that stories are revisionist demonstrates a complete ignorance of how news works on the web. They publish a few paragraphs, add a few more and so on. It’s hardly a conspiracy to revise a story when they’re trying to publish as quickly as possible.

  6. ad says:

    While the vast majority of revisions maybe additions, spelling/grammatical amendments, what about genuine occasions where news stories are heavily edited or removed entirely?

  7. Bob says:

    Why don’t you monitor a broader spread of organisations? Do you think that the ‘liberal’ media has a monopoly on revision.

    Personally I think the whole idea is rather silly. Constant revision is a crucial part of news production. If you buy the last edition of a newspaper, there will have been changes since the first edition, made when more information came in. Why on earth should web news be any different. Personally I’d rather the BBC didn’t spend my licence fee on storing every poxy revision of a story to satisfy a few weirdos’ paranoia. ‘Watch Your Mouth’, meanwhile, is actually a very good advertisement *for* the moderation of HYS – the deleted comments almost all seem to be off-topic, insane, illiterate, racist, downright stupid or all of the above.

  8. Vince Pacella - Chicago says:

    Common sense would dictate the reason why this person didn’t come out with a service that monitors 3462359247835872348609 media sources around the world is that this person is only one person.

    I’m a computer programmer , so I can appreciate the fact that each media outlet will involve hours of time determining how their formats work. (I’m assuming)

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