Haaretz.com is the only news site that bridges between the global pro-Israel and pro-Palestinian camps in an increasingly polarized online world, according to a new study of how news is shared on social networks.
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Haaretz is the only major news site that is read by both pro-Israelis and pro-Palestinians and is “clearly positioned well in the network to make an important impact on both sides,” according to the study’s author Gilad Lotan, chief data scientist at the New York startup incubator Betaworks.
The study focused on the current conflict in the Gaza Strip, specifically on the dissemination of news about two incidents – the bombings of United Nations schools in Rafah and Beit Hanun – over Facebook, Twitter and Instagram.
One graph included in the study shows the responses of Twitter users to the Beit Hanun incident on July 25. With Twitter accounts color coded to represent shared connections, the graph displays a clear separation between the two sides: Pro-Palestinian news outlets, bloggers and journalists are bunched in green on the right, while pro-Israeli groups (media outlets, Israeli public personas, American Zionists and American conservatives) are grouped in blue on the left.
Situated alone between the two partisan groups is Haaretz.com, which “accommodates the most connections on both the pro-Palestinian and pro-Israeli sides of the graph, having the highest betweenness centrality,” according to the study [italics in the original.]
“Compared to all other nodes in the graph, Haaretz is most likely to spread throughout the wider network,” the study states. “It has the most potential for bridging across biases and political barriers.”
The key finding of the study is that social networks, rather than providing channels of non-controlled and undifferentiated information, instead reinforce existing beliefs. “As we construct our online profiles based on what we already know, what we’re interested in, and what we’re recommended … content that makes us uncomfortable is filtered out.”
“The better we get at modeling user preferences, the more accurately we construct recommendation engines that fully capture user attention. In a way, we are building personalized propaganda engines that feed users content which makes them feel good and throws away the uncomfortable bits.”
In other words, rather than seeing different viewpoints, we’re instead seeing a lot more of the same. As Lotan puts it, “We used to be able to hold media accountable for misinforming the public. Now we only have ourselves to blame.”
The study also illustrates how Haaretz (both in English and Hebrew) was the only major Israeli news portal to lead with the Rafah school attack. While Ynet gave it a brief mention deep in an article and Mako and Nana didn’t mention it at all, the incident was the lead headline in Haaretz.
But, as the study points out, Haaretz’s objective stance is not popular with an increasingly partisan Zionist and Israeli audience. “Due to [its stance], Haaretz also struggles to find its core audience, hence secure enough budget to operate and grow,” according to the study.
Lotan concludes his study by calling on people who care about the topic to “help make Haaretz financially stable by paying for an online subscription (less than $10 per month.)”
Betaworks, the company of which Gilad Lotan is chief data scientist, has launched many successful online companies since its founding in 2008, among them Tweetdeck, Bitly, Chartbeat and SocialFlow.