Does playing God online lean left?

The Internet was once lauded as a great advance for free speech, but it has faltered as it has been abused by many, and deviously and potentially dangerously manipulated by some.

After the Brexit referendum in the United Kingdom and the rise of Donald trump in the United States alarm was raised over the threat to democracy.

When politics is involved there will always be accusations that one side or other is benefiting or is being disadvantaged. One thing is certain – you can’t provide the right amount of balance for everyone all of the time.

There are challenges for those who run social media, from huge forums like Facebook and Twitter, to small scale blogs where moderation is a tricky task.

Decisions can be made by people, and they are also increasingly made by ‘algorithms’. The latter rely on human designed rules that can have unintended consequences, and can be manipulated by other people and algorithms.

Washington Times looks at Playing God online

There are many deities acting online.

Playing God, even online, is not as easy as it looks. Facebook, Twitter and the other technology firms in control of the social-media universe are learning that with nearly limitless power comes the responsibility to administer it fairly. So far social media has failed. Bias, mostly but not all left-leaning, has obstructed the free flow of dialogue. Unless the tech giants figure out how to remedy their tendency to mediate political discourse by leaning left, the bloom will fade from the unmatched flower of human connectivity, and bad things will follow.

Bad things have already happened.

As the number of social-media enthusiasts has exploded across our orb, so has a list of complaints from users who say their messages are electronically folded, bent, spindled or mutilated simply because of an offending turn of phrase.

Google and Twitter last week invited representatives from Facebook, Microsoft, Snapchat and some other of the nation’s most influential technology companies to discuss ways of countering “information operations” and safeguarding their platforms with “election protections.” Buzzfeed, an online news outlet, observes that following the political convulsions arising from Russian attempts to interfere with the 2016 presidential election, computer programs meant to block hacker mischief have been unable to discern the difference between hate speech and edgy opinion, some of it well meant, and this poses a clear and present danger to the First Amendment.

Those silenced are frequently conservatives.

I think that frequently they aren’t conservatives either. Pointing the finger without data or any type of substantiation lokas like playing politics.

The issue of social-media silencing has come full boil in recent days, triggered by the Facebook banning of Infowars conspiracy monger Alex Jones after he violated taboos. In domino effect, other social-media giants followed. Twitter shut down Mr. Jones for “only” a week.

Has Jones been punished for playing devil’s advocate, or for abuse of speech privileges?

Algorithms, or mechanical searches, sift through the billions of messages daily to filter out offensive content, and some of it, from both right and left, is offensive indeed. But that reflects the expertise and foibles of the humans who create the algorithms.

Twitter CEO Jack Dorsey concedes that his monitors favor left-wing causes, but says that isn’t political bias. Indeed, what makes bias so frustrating is that bias is often difficult to recognize by those with the bias.

It is also very difficult to measure with any accuracy, so it is easy to make general insinuations.

Bias is a symptom of the human tendency to favor the familiar and detest the dissimilar. Like a shadow, it is a constant companion in many a walk through life. Unlike a shadow, however, intolerance won’t disappear when someone turns on the light. Democracy, goes one marketing cliche, dies in darkness.

It is only through honest and transparent engagement with a variety of opinions that someone can evaluate the relative merits of opposing views.

That’s right in theory. But it’s common to seek opinions you like and accept them without question rather than assessing a variety of views.

And there seems to be a lot of dishonest and dirty manipulation going on.

Social media is regarded as electronic bulletin boards where everyone is free to post his thoughts.

That’s the theory. Many people don’t feel free to openly post their thoughts, for fear of attack and abuse – and attackers and abusers deliberately try to shout people down and drive people away.

If the gatekeepers of conversation continue to tilt left as arbiters of acceptable speech, they, too, are likely to be subject on one sad day to the government’s rules, and learn the perils of playing God online.

There are many gatekeepers, of various tilts.

Twitter algorithms may somehow be measured to tilt left, but much depends on who people choose to follow. Those who prefer feeds from Donald Trump and Fox News and Breitbart without balance certainly won’t be tilted left, they will keep having their right wing views reinforced. And those who faithfully follow CNN and Huffington Post will have left leanings reinforced.

Online media and moderators may try to play God, but there are no easy solutions.

I can see no easy way to make people assess a variety of news sources and opinions so as they will arrive at balanced views on things.

Free speech is proving to be a challenge online.

Free choice on what one reads and watches ensures it will be an ongoing challenge,



Negative US media coverage

Quite a bit is being said and claimed about political media bias in the US, and negative bias against President Donald Trump.

A new Harvard study calculated that no less than 80 percent of the media’s coverage of President Trump during his first 100 days was unfavorable.

The Trump administration is “setting a new standard for unfavorable press coverage of a president,” according to a new study by professor of government and the press Thomas E. Patterson at the Harvard Kennedy School and Shorenstein Center on Media, Politics and Public Policy.

The Fox report has this graphic:

But the study doesn’t prove ‘media bias against Trump’, if found more negative than positive coverage.

Is this because much of the media is biased against Trump?

Or is Trump doing a lot of notable negative stuff, dumb stuff, genuinely concerning stuff,  and getting appropriate coverage.

Fox News at times looked like they were campaigning for trump during last year’s election. In that context 50/50 positive/negative might indicate even they have a lot to complain about Trump’s performance.

Should media try to aim for 50/50 positive/negative coverage regardless of the big news and regardless of the performance of the president? That would be a bit ridiculous.

Is Trump directly responsible for greater than normal negative coverage due to his at times absurd and at times provocative tweets?

There’s a contrast of headlines on this.

From Zerohedge: Harvard Study Reveals Huge Extent Of Anti-Trump Media Bias

A major new study out of Harvard University has revealed the true extent of the mainstream media’s bias against Donald Trump.

To Forbes: Trump’s Getting Killed In The Media, But Not Because Of Bias

If your favorite football team gets destroyed by another team, and the local newspaper writes a story about the game, is the resulting news story–which paints an ugly picture of your team’s performance–an example of the newspaper’s bias against your beloved team?

Of course not.

But that’s essentially what some conservative media believe when it comes to coverage of the Trump White House. In their view, since most coverage of Trump is negative, that proves the media is biased against the president.

“Harvard Study Reveals Huge Extent of Anti-Trump Media Bias” screams a headline by Heatstreet that was picked up by The Drudge Report Friday:

Academics at the Shorenstein Center on Media, Politics and Public Policy analyzed coverage from Trump’s first 100 days in office across 10 major TV and print outlets.

They found that the tone of some outlets was negative in as many as 98% of reports, significantly more hostile than the first 100 days of the three previous administrations.

Well, yes, the “tone” of stories about Donald Trump have tended to be fairly negative overall. But the negative tone is no more proof of bias than coverage of Trump’s presidency could be considered proof of bias in favor of the president.

Didn’t people during the campaign say that any coverage was good coverage for Trump?

But isn’t CNN, at the top of the list with 93% of its stories deemed negative, clearly biased? InfoWars sure thought so, calling the study proof of “overwhelming anti-Trump media bias,” while the American Thinker said the study’s results proved “a shocking level of media bias against President Trump…the extreme percentage of negative coverage of the president is absolutely breathtaking.”

But breathtakingly negative media coverage doesn’t equate to “a shocking level of media bias.” Remember, the study looked at tone. Here’s how the researchers defined it:

Tone is judged from the perspective of the actor. Negative stories include stories where the actor is criticized directly. An example is a headline story where Senate minority leader Chuck Schumer criticized Trump when the Labor Department’s April economic report showed that fewer jobs were created than had been predicted. Schumer was quoted as saying, in part: “Eleven weeks into his administration, we have seen nothing from President Trump on infrastructure, on trade, or on any other serious job-creating initiative.” Negative stories also consist of stories where an event, trend, or development reflects unfavorably on the actor. Examples are the stories that appeared under the headlines “President Trump’s approval rating hits a new low”and “GOP withdraws embattled health care bill, handing major setback to Trump, Ryan.”

Is it bias to report that the president’s approval ratings are historically low, or that Trump’s efforts to enact his policies have been delayed and overwhelmed by constant questions about Russia, the firing of FBI Director James Comey and other self-inflicted wounds?

The Harvard report actually says:

“The fact that Trump has received more negative coverage than his predecessor is hardly surprising.

The early days of his presidency have been marked by far more missteps and miss-hits, often self-inflicted, than any presidency in memory, perhaps ever.”

Here is the Shorenstein report: News Coverage of Donald Trump’s First 100 Days

Findings include:

  • President Trump dominated media coverage in the outlets and programs analyzed, with Trump being the topic of 41 percent of all news stories—three times the amount of coverage received by previous presidents. He was also the featured speaker in nearly two-thirds of his coverage.
  • Republican voices accounted for 80 percent of what newsmakers said about the Trump presidency, compared to only 6 percent for Democrats and 3 percent for those involved in anti-Trump protests.
  • European reporters were more likely than American journalists to directly question Trump’s fitness for office.
  • Trump has received unsparing coverage for most weeks of his presidency, without a single major topic where Trump’s coverage, on balance, was more positive than negative, setting a new standard for unfavorable press coverage of a president.
  • Fox was the only news outlet in the study that came close to giving Trump positive coverage overall, however, there was variation in the tone of Fox’s coverage depending on the topic.



Status quo bias, politics and media

Status quo bias is a recognised human trait. From Wikipedia:

Status quo bias is an emotional bias; a preference for the current state of affairs. The current baseline (or status quo) is taken as a reference point, and any change from that baseline is perceived as a loss.

Status quo bias should be distinguished from a rational preference for the status quo ante, as when the current state of affairs is objectively superior to the available alternatives, or when imperfect information is a significant problem. A large body of evidence, however, shows that status quo bias frequently affects human decision-making.

From Behavioural Economics:

Status quo bias is evident when people prefer things to stay the same by doing nothing (see also inertia) or by sticking with a decision made previously (Samuelson, & Zeckhauser, 1988). This may happen even when only small transition costs are involved and the importance of the decision is great.

Samuelson and Zeckhauser note that status quo bias is consistent with loss aversion, and that it could be psychologically explained by previously made commitments and sunk cost thinking, cognitive dissonance, a need to feel in control and regret avoidance.

The latter is based on Kahneman and Tversky’s observation that people feel greater regret for bad outcomes that result from new actions taken than for bad consequences that are the consequence of inaction (Kahneman & Tversky, 1982).

That may explain why many people choose not to vote.

Noam Chomsky talks about a status quo bias of media, largely driven by financial interests.

Chomsky’s Propaganda Model says American media have “filters” — ownership, advertising, news makers, news shapers — which together emphasize institutional memory, limited debate and media content emphasizing the interests of those in control.

Chomsky used a CASE STUDY of how American media covered two foreign atrocities, Cambodia and East Timor, to illustrate the propaganda model at work — mainstream media (New York Times was the example used) showed bias in favor of the status quo and power elites and did not covered both atrocities in the same manner, by paying extensive attention to the one (Cambodia 1975-79) and ignoring the other (East Timor 1975-79). If media were not an instrument of propaganda, they would have covered each equally.

When media news coverage of issues is bias in favor the status quo, these are the results:

  1. ownership of media is held by major corporations with interests and goals similar to power elite elements of society
  2. people with different views, “dissenting voices,” are not heard much
  3. the breadth of debate is limited
  4. the official stance and institutional memory prevail and become history
  5. people’s interest and attention are often diverted away from issues about which they could become concerned

These attributes come to limit a society in part because mainstream mass media play their part by imposing what Chomsky calls Necessary Illusions, which make certain the masses of the populace won’t become curious and involved in the political process and will continue submitting to the “civil rule” of the power elite (maintaining the status quo) — thus, the masses (80%) are marginalized and diverted while the political class(20% who vote and participate in democracy) are indoctrinated into the status quo.

This “system” is not a Conspiracy but is a HEGEMONIC system of sorts, working with propaganda, wherein people do not get all the important information that may arouse that curiosity and prompt them to get involved and create changes.

This has been challenged somewhat by the internet, social media, alternative media sources and the massive challenges facing traditional media and traditional media power.

Alternative media has had a large impact on politics in the US, being a significant factor in the success of Donald Trump to win last year’s presidential election.

Traditional media in New Zealand is struggling financially but still has a significant influence on politics and political outcomes.

Advocacy journalism is increasing, often on a rapid response time scale, but also often prompted and driven by political interests. Ex-journalists have become key members of political organisations.

But there are competing pressures.

Media owners have an interest in maintaining the status quo where their investments are protected.

But in conflict with this is a media moves towards more sensational headlines and reporting – in part what is called click-bait media.

To sell copies and advertising media needs challenges to the political status quo, they need dissent, they need scandal, they need disruption.

What media seem addicted to now is constant revolution on the surface, without affecting the status quo systems that they rely on for their profitability and existence.

The Internet has been established by revolutionaries that has seriously challenged the media status quo, and that is now having a profound effect on both media and on politics.

It will be interesting to see how the new  status quo in media, Google, Facebook, Twitter et al, with traditional media now in a fight for survival over the crumbs, lasts.

In rapidly changing media and political environments it is the people left with their status quo bias.

As posted in Revolt to change everything back to how it was this why we now have in France:

This is a country of people sick of the status quo, who feel the country has gone down a dark, depressing alley. They want everything to change, so things can go back to being the same.

They want a revolution. They want heads to roll. They’re angry, and they’re about to vote.

There are signs that some in New Zealand want a revolution to take things back to some imaginary time in history, perhaps when the status quo wasn’t under so much threat.

There are probably much bigger numbers who seek the status quo via “people feel greater regret for bad outcomes that result from new actions taken than for bad consequences that are the consequence of inaction” – that is, by not voting.

This gives more voting power for those who do want revolution.

But there are minorities on the left and on the right who seek the same ‘good old days’ but have very different ideas about what they were. They may largely balance each other out.

Now we have traditional media and new media activism that wants to influence elections to their own advantage, but has been seen in the US people, voters, are as likely to ignore or revolt against media as follow their propaganda.

There has also been signs of this in New Zealand, with Nicky Hager’s ‘Dirty Politics’ launched during the 2014 election campaign, and Kim Dotcom’s media ‘moment of truth’ extravaganza apparently backfiring. Both failed to change the government.

Maintaining or going back to the status quo is a tricky thing.

In fact maintaining the status quo is impossible, things always evolve and change. The rate of change may be slowed, but the only real status quo is change.

Change in New Zealand largely chugs along beneath an umbrella of media mayhem – short term headlines and clicks dominating while their status quo crumbles.

Unusual in the turbulent political world status quo National has plodded away for nearly nine years. And even if they are replaced by Labour+Greens those two parties seem to be moving more towards status quo economics with a few social tweaks.

Beyond the frantic political fringes there seems little public pressure to challenge the status quo – slow and careful change, despite media bias towards sensation and change of everything but themselves.


Media bias NZ – updated

UPDATE to the media bias chart:


I don’t think The Standard meets higher standards than The Daily Blog, it is in the main a political PR vehicle.

While average comments at Kiwiblog may be rightish overall David Farrar’s posts are quite mixed, hardly the most right wing media in New Zealand.

Edit#2 2nd version complete, please have a look. Thanks for your advice and for being kind when there were mistakes! I received 15 survey responses, thanks a bunch!

That’s a very small self selected sample.

For reference I used this list to grab the top 3 blogs in NZ. Whaleoil is not on the list, if it is still popular please let me know.

There are a lot of blogs not on the Open parachute list. Whale Oil would still probably be the most popular blog by clicks (a very rough measure of popularity number of page views doesn’t necessarily equate to ‘popular’) but Kiwiblog and The Standard wouldn’t be much different based on number of comments.

Previous version: Media bias – NZ

USA:  Media bias – USA

Media bias – NZ

This is an attempt at a New Zealand chart on media bias that needs some work:


This has been updated, see below.

As feedback has been saying, Kiwiblog on the left is odd, and more odd is it’s proximity to The Standard and The Daily Blog which should be quite a bit further left and down.

Also noted is the omission of Whale Oil, this is either a mistake, ignorant one of the most prominent New Zealand blogs, or petty.

There is a promise to revise this, but there doesn’t seem much science going into it.

I’ll add an update when it’s available.


This is taking a different angle, measuring the political leanings of journalists – Liam Hehir wrote:

A 2014 Massey University study, for example, showed that 22 percent of New Zealand journalists considered themselves Centrists. Just 16 percent said they were on the Right and fully 62 percent said they were on the Left.

David Farrar commented on this in NZ journalists lean left:

The study was published in

So around three times as many journalists identify as centre-left than centre-right.

52% of the population voted for a centre-right party, yet only 16% of journalists consider themselves centre-right.

There’s a number of comments following that on Kiwiblog.

UPDATED: Media bias NZ – updated

Media bias – USA

A chart showing someone’s claims of US media bias. I’m sure there will be some surprises and differences of opinion on that.