Introduction to Socially Driven Political News

The political categories of socially driven news sites are unlike any others. Submitters are treated differently than they are in other categories. Stories and commenters are also treated differently. Users are banding together to get stories promoted which push agendas. These factors and others are affecting how well social bookmarking sites can report political stories.

Digg added a section for political news in June as part of their v3 upgrade. This was an opportunity for social bookmarkers to cut through the BS of mainstream political news and share stories with each other that they may not have otherwise seen, just as Digg excels at doing for technology news.

Along with this new opportunity came new users, with new motivations for social bookmarking and new attitudes towards other users. Most submitters are assumed to endorse the political leanings of whatever they submit. It is assumed that their submissions are part of their “agendas”. How fascinating! I didn’t know I had an agenda until I started participating in Digg’s politics topic. If you are planning to contribute political news to a social bookmarking site, be prepared to be flamed by someone who does not agree with whichever way your submission leans.

Users are also allegedly organizing themselves in groups that support articles with specific agendas. This was bound to happen as new demographics realize what a huge force social bookmarking is for getting noticed on the internet. Political bloggers are taking notice as well, and encouraging their readers to support their work through social bookmarking. The community is having mixed reactions to these behaviours. New users are always welcome. New content is also always welcome. None of the two above behaviours are against the terms of use on any social bookmarking site, yet many users consider them ways of gaming the system.

At the time of writing this, 10 of the last 30 stories promoted to the front page of Digg from the Political News topic have been marked as possibly inaccurate by the community. 11 of the last 30 stories promoted from the Political Opinion topic have been marked likewise. What does this mean? If one were to take this at face value, one would think that either Digg is an exceptionally bad source of political stories, with more than 33% of them being inaccurate, or the burying feature on Digg is being grossly abused.

Reading through the comments on these submissions reveals that it is the latter. It is obvious that users are using the bury feature irresponsibly. This results in the news appearing skewed in a very different way than it is skewed by mainstream media. This is socially skewed news, shaped to look how the community wants it to look. This is a trait that Netscape does not share, as none of the last 100 political stories on the front page of Netscape have been marked as inaccurate. Stories should always be voted on and buried based on their merits.

The social skew of a social bookmarking site reflects on the site as a whole. I recently noticed Fabienne, an Anchor at Netscape, remark on how they get complaints from people depending on the political leanings of stories on the front page of their site.

All this being said, I believe that political sections on social bookmarking sites are doing very well. They have helped me discover countless stories that I would not have otherwise. But just like politics in real life, it is not without its faults. Perhaps social bookmarking sites as we know them are not best suited to political news. I would welcome any new ideas for socially driven web solutions geared towards political news. But also just like politics in real life, no matter the solution, you will not be able to please everyone.