Just as Gallup polls show that journalists are less trusted than at any point in history, social media users are proving to be powerful in calling out bias and discrimination. Now, a California professor has created a website she says will better amplify these voices.
Brendesha Tynes developed Rate My Media, a crowdsourced rating site to evaluate how well websites and podcasts, TV shows and films, video games and comics represent race and ethnicity. As users enter ratings on a one-star to six-star system, Rate My Media is able to display, in real-time, how content fairly and accurately addresses equity and inclusion.
“This way, we can be more systematic in how we are calling out the bias in the forms of media that we are consuming,” Tynes says. “Right now it’s just if you’re on Twitter and you are friends with people who are on Black Twitter and you see people calling it out. It’s sort of disparate. We want to create a place for all of those folks to come together and agree on a set of criteria for judging a piece of media.”
For Rate My Media to truly be effective, however, depends on whether it catches steam with social media users. So far just 500 people have registered for the site.
“The thing will be getting people to do the reviews,” says Sally Lehrman, director of the Journalism Ethics Program and the Trust Project at the Markkula Center for Applied Ethics at Santa Clara University. “If they can build momentum and build awareness, this site could be helpful to media users and prompt real change in the media.”
At the Trust Project Lehrman is working with prominent American and European news organizations to develop technologies to ensure that news stories are truthful and comprehensive. “We want to make it easy for the public to ascertain something that is quality as opposed to all the other information out there, advertising or propaganda designed to incite,” she says.
Lehrman focused her remarks on Rate My Media’s potential vis-a-vis the news media and not entertainment channels. “I wish they had more news on [the site]; it’s kind of a small category and there’s not a lot of people rating it,” she says.
Still, if Rate My Media attracts a critical mass of active users, Lehrman says the site could become a tool that connects the public with editors at news organizations. “This could be a way to say, ‘Trust us as an audience and let us interact with you and make suggestions,’ of diverse sources and let us help you find them.”
Tynes, who teaches education and psychology courses at the University of Southern California, says she was inspired to develop Rate My Media after she heard about a Texas mother whose son’s geography book referred to slaves as “workers” in reference to immigration. The mother’s post on social media went viral and forced the textbook publisher to revise the book. “Having a system to review the media just amplifies the [individual] voice,” she says.
The current media environment is fractured and often presents an incomplete picture, Tynes continues. “You have the media telling one story but then you know of friends and friends of friends who are actually on the ground. We know we are not getting the full accurate story from the media we use.”
This lack of a complete picture in coverage could be because many mainstream outlets — whether due to shrinking newsroom diversity or not making a diverse set of sources a reporting priority — often end up quoting a small, homogeneous group of sources. “I’ve found that editors are surprised to learn the importance of equity and inclusion in readers’ lives,” Lehrman says. Both Tynes and Lerhrman believe a site like Rate My Media can help shift that thinking.
Tynes, whose academic work focuses on online harassment and its effect on the mental health of youth and their academic success, says her work led her to invest her own savings to develop Rate My Media. She plans to generate revenue by selling advertising that her growing online community attracts.
While Rate My Media is designed to hold content producers responsible for biased or otherwise flawed content, Tynes says she also hopes that the reverse will be true. “People can see who is actually getting it right,” she says.