Recommenders with a mission: towards a more diverse internet

‘Recommenders with a mission: towards a more diverse internet’ focused on the way in which news is recommended to us as readers, and how news diversity can be a complex topic of discussion.

Recommenders with a mission: towards a more diverse internet

This MozFest session, which was led by University of Amsterdam researchers Sanne Vrijenhoek and Marijn Sax, focused on news recommender systems, how they function and how they can be implemented in different news publications. 

The workshop began with a brief overview of news and news recommender systems. The session leaders spoke about how news and the media play an important role in shaping the way we view the world and can influence critical decisions such as national elections. 

However, with there being a huge number of news articles published globally, we have increasingly become reliant on news recommender systems. These are systems that are used to filter through news items to find those that are the most interesting or relevant to us.

News diversity was then brought up. Diversity in this instance relates to a range of different news stories from different perspectives being provided to readers to give a broad spectrum of opinions. 

With this in mind, the session leaders aimed to prompt a discussion around diversity in news recommender systems and see how the topic of diversity would be tackled by different systems for fictional publications.

To this end, participants were placed into breakout rooms to discuss a news recommender system for one of four fictional publications with different editorial values – The Daily Voice, Stronger Together, The Better Argument and Zarathustra.

Attendees were asked to consider what a recommender system would ideally look like and what scope there would be for news diversity within their respective publications.

After a short period of discussion, attendees reconvened to present their ideas to the group. A multitude of different approaches to news recommender systems were detailed by the groups. One attendee highlighted a potential issue associated with a lack of news diversity, whereby an echo-chamber atmosphere could be created which would mean readers may only see news that aligned with their own perspectives. 

After this, Marijn briefly summarised the session’s findings to that point, remarking that the topic of news diversity was actually more complex than it initially appeared to be due to the difference of editorial focus in each fictional publication.

The session finished with another discussion around the practicalities of implementing the news recommender systems that the participants had previously proposed. Issues such as the need to adhere to GDPR and the controls that users may need were raised in addition to the data that would need to be collected in order to personalise user experiences with news websites.

In closing the session, Sanne and Marijn stated that they had aimed to show that the question of news diversity was interesting, in addition to demonstrating various perspectives on the topic.

An entertaining session that addressed real life considerations relating to the way in which news is recommended to us as readers, ‘Recommenders with a mission: towards a more diverse internet’ was definitely an interesting experience!

You can find more information about the fictional publications and different news recommender systems proposed by the participants here!

Header Image Credit: Roman Kraft


Ali Muzaffar

Ali Muzaffar Kickstart Team

Ali is a Trainee Journalist with Voice. He graduated from the University of Leeds in English Literature and maintains a strong interest in reading new books whenever possible. A self-professed film nut, Ali enjoys movies from a wide range of genres, although he can be counted on to gravitate towards thrillers or dramas!

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