I have been contacting people about rbutr over the past few weeks in an attempt to gauge community interest in the app and to see if anyone will actually use it (probably just about the most important thing when building a new application…) and one particular concern has already been brought to my attention at least once, and I saw it again in the comments to a New Scientist article on one of our predecessors – Dispute Finder (Think Link): http://www.newscientist.com/article/dn17339-dispute-finder-web-tool-gives-two-sides-of-a-story.html
Reader ‘Jon’ commented:
This is potentially a dangerous tool. All the climate change deniers will flag all the scientific pages, and point to their blogs. Then an unknowing citizen searches climate change and thinks there is a real debate. That’s just frightening.
So it is worth addressing these concerns before I hear them much more. First of all, if a citizen is looking at Scientific journals in the first place, it is unlikely that they will be fooled in to thinking that some opinion in a blog has any equivalence to the peer reviewed article they presumably just read. And those who click through from the pro-climate change blogs to the anti-climate change blogs, are just as able to click back to the counter rebuttals as they did in the first instance. That is, they can with rbutr – I don’t know for sure if that was the same with Dispute Finder.
In any case though, anyone who is so uncertain about their own position on a subject that they are afraid of people hearing an alternative perspective, really ought to be looking in to their own beliefs a lot more. Or to put it another way, let me quote one of my favourite quotes of all time:
“John Stuart Mill… argued that silencing an opinion is ‘a peculiar evil.’ If the opinion is right, we are robbed of the ‘opportunity of exchanging error for truth’; and if it’s wrong, we are deprived of a deeper understanding of the truth in ‘it’s collision with error.’ If we know only our own side of the argument, we hardly even know that; it becomes stale, soon learned by rote, untested, a pallid and lifeless truth.”
-Carl Sagan, Demon Haunted World
I believe this quote captures a philosophical sentiment which is so important, that the fear of ‘abuse’ at the hands of “the enemy” is made completely irrelevent. Particularly when that fear is raised in relation to an app like Dispute Finder, or rbutr. Remember, rbutr is not Fox News – it won’t pretend to be Fair and Balanced while constantly spinning each story a particular way. rbutr is just a tool – it has no bias, only it’s users do. And if you see someone exhibiting a bias, you have just as much power to counteract it as they have to enact it.
Websites with bias already exist. Social media and search engines already allow people to share and search for these biased websites. What rbutr is going to change about this equation, is that your ‘filter bubble‘ will have a permanent hole in it – a nice little rbutr sized hole, where you can choose to step out in to the big wide world of ‘someone else’s opinion’ any time you want.
And that is pretty cool.