A guest post by our super 2017 intern, Axel…(10 minute read)
Content scraping is the process of searching the Internet for content which matches a set of conditions such as keywords, recency and sources. What you get is a compilation of all the content about a certain topic that exists.
This does not only facilitate one’s job of being source critical, but it also presents articles written by people occupying different positions on the ideological spectrum, allowing for the identification of political bias.
Moreover, it is only those who have mastered the art of Search Engine Optimization (SEO) that are visible on major search engines such as Google, Yahoo and Bing. Most people rarely look below the top three links, and the vast majority certainly never look at the second page of links. The widespread fear of whatever may lure in the supposedly dark realms of search engines limits the distribution of impactful content to a few major actors. This easily imposes various biases, and many important views of news and events are lost.
So why is this a relevant issue?
Certainly it is one’s responsibility as a member of a democratic society to remain critical of mainstream political narratives, this in order to prevent the spreading of propaganda – fake news, as such.
We must be aware of the issue – a public that is easily swayed by tinted reports by major political actors. Thus, in order to better our political system, the undermining of the spreading of political bias is something to be preferred.
Although this carries major importance, there are fields in which its implication can have a quicker and more palpable effect. One of those areas, which is going to be the main focus of this post, is the educational system.
Critical thinking has become the title of intellectual development in today’s educational system. However, it is hard to build a house without tools – likewise it is hard to think critically when you lack a framework for it.
As a high-school student who is about two years away from applying to university, I know the hassle of writing essays and researching topics. Subjects range from the natural and societal implications of the dropping of the atomic bombs during World War 2, to recent developments within domestic politics.
One of the pains of writing an essay about a specific topic is finding sources that back your factual claims.
And it is very important to be certain that what you claim is in fact true. Because in order for something to attain a level of academic significance, it has to be in agreement with the fundamental pillar upon which academia stands: the presupposition that reasonings have to be based on facts in order to carry importance.
It does not matter that you can express yourself in an eloquent manner or that you have a wonderful plan on how to save the media industry; if it does not contain anything that is applicable to our society and its institutions, it is practically worthless!
This is something one may escape even in high school- deep philosophical reasonings may be enough. But if one is not only after good grades but also academic significance and credibility, this is something that one has to get accustomed to.
So now that the importance of sources, and backing up your ideas with facts, has been established, how do I find a potential in content scraping in connection to all this? There are two major things which I think would be much appreciated among students at 14-18 years of age:
- Primarily, a better view of what content is out there. The page you are presented with once you do a Google search is a rather unintuitive landscape filled with myriad links. There is a lot of text, and the UI is not very user-friendly.
What a tool such as Zenia would do better than Google regarding an issue like this is to present a good holistic overview of what content there is, that exists. A larger number of stories would be compiled in a more condensed format, with pictures that are characteristic for each article. This would be a more intuitive format, leading to people being more comfortable with spending time researching specific topics. This would also encourage students to research topics in the sense that it would be less of a pain to do so.
Take a quick tea break and watch this short intro video that used AI to generate speech…
- Secondly, it would eliminate SEO. Since the tool is only finding information based on keywords, SEO is taken out of the equation. This would allow for a diversity of perspectives which is important when writing something based on facts. Preferably what you are writing should be unanimously agreed upon by diverse sources; otherwise you can find anything to be true. Therefore it is good to find several sources that confirm your perception of a certain topic. This also decreases political bias to a large extent which is good for one’s academic credibility. Academia should be free from political influence, unless political science in fact is what one seeks to explore.
One might argue that there already exists well-functioning applications for finding sources and content such as ResearchGate and Google Scholar. That is certainly true, but there exists a problem with the type of content that these actors provide.
Scholarly articles are too complicated for most people between the ages of 14-18, and it is not until you start at university that you really become familiar with how to use them. What I am thinking of is a light version of a scholarly research tools, allowing for an eventual transition to more loaded content and sources. For this to gain traction, especially in today’s society where people’s attention spans tend to be shorter than ever, you need to create something intuitive and easily understood. That is where the potential of this tool lies when it comes to education.
If this structure is at some point ratified, what we are going to end up with is a better educational system. Students are provided with tools that facilitate their learning and undermines potential biases. As it is today, it is a very large step to move from high school with no background in source criticism and research to a university environment where you are expected to be critical of what you read and hear. What I propose in this post is a mechanism that would mitigate the mental and intellectual strain of such a step. In the end, less time will have to be spent in high school and at university familiarising yourself with what research and source criticism entails. Instead that will be a fundament which you start building early on in your education and upon which you can stand further into your career when it really matters.
Conclusively, there exists a major vacuum in today’s educational system insofar that students aren’t introduced to the concepts of source criticism and research until far into their educational journeys. And since these concepts are so fundamental to any useful academic work that is being done, people have to spend many tedious hours getting familiar with them at university, when they should be something very basic. Therefore we have to adopt the proposed mechanism to better our educational standards. One way of doing this could be using Zenia’s content scraping tool and its UI.
If you want a free test of Zenia and try it for yourself, click here