News Manipulation?

What News? President Trump v. Google

August 30, 2018

Our President is accusing Google of only promoting negative news stories on the President. It is not fallacious that Google is doing so, as it is not doing so on purpose. It is the handy work of AI-based models (algorithms) that do so …

First of all, I have experience and granted patent(s) on working on AI models that surface news to users. My teams built the respective capabilities for Yahoo, and morphed it over time to achieve the function of maximization of Engagement.

Engagement is the key metric for us to understand as this news related spat is being driven due to it. Engagement means that each user has, when consuming their news, provided the news provider with their maximum possible attention and time. Increasing Engagement means increased revenue for the news provider, thus maximizing Engagement is important.

The big difference between reading a newspaper and consuming news online is that the news is tailored for every individual user. The mechanism for doing so is a combination of Personalization and other factors. There are multiple models that work to provide a page full of news or search results (or a news feed, as in the case of Facebook). The predictions of each model are combined and organized to create the page or feed for the user.

Further, the news the user is shown has flavors of Personalization (what items are news worthy for an individual as a user) and other factors such as local news, breaking news, and serendipity, meaning that even though the user may have not shown direct interest on a topic, the model believes that it could get the user interested in a new topic.

Personalization is based not only on your interests, but also a combination of what others like you and around you are reading. This is where the President starts to get annoyed. It is true that everyone in the so called ‘blue’ states love to read news that puts down our President every day, day after day. When the model looks at the user’s location and runs to create a news page, it automatically surfaces up news that is arguably derogatory on our President.

Conversely, people in ‘red’ states will have the models produce more favorable news as that is what those users like to read.

The goal of the models are really to show users what they want to see — which maximizes Engagement thereby maximizing the Revenue opportunity for the news provider.