This year’s political events have reinforced the idea for many that people have their own personal informational bubbles that are difficult to escape. Three Wharton MBA students are seeking to change that with the launch of their company, PolarNews.
Last October, Davis Filippell, Matt Alexander and Mimi Bell created PolarNews, an online newsletter that pairs articles with contrasting points of view on current events and sends them to subscribers. The founders curate all of the newsletter’s content themselves, selecting articles they feel are most relevant for readers.
Filippell first conceived of the idea for the company last summer after observing the news coverage leading up to Brexit while living in London.
“My own sphere was very one-sided both before and after, which caused a lot of surprise,” Filippell said.
When Filippell returned to the United States in the fall, he noticed the same phenomenon occurring in the coverage leading up to the presidential election. During lunch one day in October, he sent an email comparing reports of the vice presidential debate to the six people sitting around his table, and thus PolarNews was born.
“I sent that first email to the people around me to show that what you may believe as the obvious outcome is not what is being pushed through the internet and the world, so it is important to take action on it,” he said.
Alexander shared Filippell’s desire to increase awareness of differing points of view and make contrasting reports more readily available.
“There were a lot of people, both in Brexit and in the U.S. presidential election, who felt that the vote had to turn out a certain way, and couldn’t turn out any other way,” Alexander said.
Filippell and Alexander agree that the news sources people follow online tend to reinforce one another.
“Most people, when they look at their Facebook news feeds, tend to be friends with like-minded people of similar backgrounds,” Alexander said. “When it comes to the articles that people choose to share, a lot of times they can be of a very similar mindset, and thus is the emergence of the echo chamber.”
Alexander describes this echo chamber as confirming or validating beliefs and perspectives that people already have, adding that it is a lot more difficult to break out and try to find information from a different perspective.
“We just want people to look at the articles we’ve paired and make up their own minds and think for themselves,” Alexander said. “We’re hoping that in the future we can build a platform for constructive political dialogue, not just for United States politics but also for issues that are important to people around the world.”
Filippell believes that providing news coverage that is accurate and showcases a variety of views has become increasingly important.
“We see a lot happening in the world right now in which there is a huge potential for misinformation, and fake news is a topic that trends in all sorts of different circles,” Filippell said. “Our goal is to look through that and create something that people look forward to and count on, and also can use to make a difference.”
The founders eventually hope to present more than just two viewpoints in each newsletter, since there are many different sides to every issue, they said.
“We have this two-party system that is very entrenched in American politics, but within every party and on every issue there are a multitude of different views,” Alexander said. “As Americans and people who live in the United States, whether citizens or not, I think that we can do better in the way we choose to talk about certain things.”
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