Objectivity in the Age of Fake News

If you’ve clicked on a news article on your social media feed recently, chances are you’ve probably come across biased articles or reports that are outright fictional (#bowlinggreen).

When information can be shared with millions with just a few clicks, it’s no wonder that Facebook is trying to make it harder for false information to spread through its network of two billion people.

Still, misleading news can leak through the gates, and the burden of discerning what’s real and what’s scam can undermine any effective political discussion.

The solution? Meet Polity.

Founded by Benjamin Wallsten and Ty Hopp, Polity is a mobile and web app that aggregates and presents official U.S. government data in a clean, digestible – and most importantly – impartial way. The platform curates legislation, judicial rulings and executive actions directly from sources like the Federal Election Commission and congressional websites, without citing any mainstream media.

“One of our biggest frustrations is simply with how hard it is to understand what the hell is going on politically,” said CEO Wallsten, who is finishing his degree in Cognitive Science with an emphasis in  AI-HCI at UC Santa Cruz. “You spend a lot of time looking for reliable information, leaving little time to actually evaluate the information you gathered.”

Despite its namesake, Polity is deliberately non-political. The team emphasizes the importance of not providing any political commentary or discussion – only hard data from verified and official sources.

“Our intention is not to come down on either side of the political debate, but to present objective information to the public, and then let you decide what to do with that information,” said Wallsten. “If you find out that a Big Oil company funds a senator who doesn’t believe in climate change, it’s up to you to interpret what that means.”

Everyday users can go through trusted and nonpartisan information without having to worry about whether they are being actively manipulated. Users can also better understand the rationale of specific senators and legislators as the app intends to lay bare all reported sources of donations and lobbying that politicians receive.

When asked whether they see Polity as a potential platform for political activism and discussion, the team is quick to emphasize their company’s core focus.

“At the end of the day, we see ourselves as the first step in the political discussion,” said Wallsten, “our mission is to give everyone the same set of objective facts and establish a basis for political discussion, but not necessarily engage in that discussion in any partisan way.”

Since the data that Polity collects is in the public domain to begin with, the mobile application will be completely free-of-charge to everyday users. However, the team is interested in exploring a tiered payment model à la CB Insights for their web app, which provides curated information targeted towards media channels and businesses.

As for next steps, Polity is first focused on  local efforts, but also keeping an eye out for global expansion in the future.

“We’re really eager to succeed in the United States,” said co-founder Hopp, who’s currently studying in Beijing and has a keen interest in Asia, “but our long term goal is to go to anywhere where there’s a government and data available.”

Polity is currently in pre-launch mode.

You can sign up for their waitlist here: http://polity.tech/


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Jason Choi

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