Privacy isn't enough - The trouble with Brave Today's filtering algorithm

Brave has a strong focus on privacy, which I believe is good for various reasons. However, the recently released Brave Today news feed - as it is implemented right now - is a terrible idea, as I’ll explain below. My critique is not aimed at having a news feed in the browser (that’s cool!), but at how the news articles are filtered.

According to the blog post, Brave Today filters articles according to “a combination of personalization, recency, publishing frequency, and a degree of randomization”. Apart from randomization, each of these features is problematic.

  • Personalization: The personalization of news leads to filter bubbles, where each user sees a newsfeed that is distinct from any other user, often even w.r.t. very basic claims. As a result, people find it increasingly difficult to communicate with each other and find common ground. This is a thread to any society and must be taken serious.
  • Recency: The latest news is also the least fact-checked. On social media, false information spreads several times faster than correct information, so users will likely receive mostly false or incomplete information. The structure of Brave Today is different from social media in that people cannot share articles, which is good. However, the issue remains that the very latest news are also the most likely to be falsified in the future, and the falsification will not reach as many people because we suffer from anchoring and other biases.
  • Publishing frequency: The more frequently a news source publishes articles, the more likely it is that it didn’t go deep into the topic and oversimplifies issues (this can be compensated for if the agency has lots of journalists, but most agencies don’t have this luxury).

Before we go ahead and propose solutions to these problems, this thread should be about understanding the problem. I have a bunch of ideas that could tackle some of the issues, but holding off on proposing solutions will improve the solutions proposed. Thus, Do not think of solutions until the problem has been discussed as thoroughly as possible without suggesting any. Once I think everyone in this thread had a good understanding of the problems that I talked about, I’ll open the discussion to proposals (though ultimately this is in the hands of the forum admins, of course).

We’ve considered all these issues (and many others), so let me first address a few things you’ve assumed incorrectly here.

Personalization in Brave Today simply favors sources that you tend to visit. It does not exclude or promote content for an individual the way Facebook optimizes its feed for social activity and participation as you’ve implied. Rather it values each Brave Today source with a match in your browser history and adds weight to the articles from those sources amongst the list of articles available.

Your claim that the most recent news is the least fact-checked is inaccurate. The opposite may be true in many cases, particularly amongst the major news outlets with large teams of editors. If a source in Brave Today does not meet your standard for verification and validity then simply remove it from your list.

The publishing frequency is used as a way to flatten the competition between high frequency and low frequency publications. It doesn’t reward frequency. We do this by reducing the weight (or rather increase the negative weight) of the articles from a source that publishes throughout the day. This way a monthly or weekly publication will get similar exposure to an hourly one in your feed.

You may be thinking about the way social media feeds work in your critique above, though we will always look for ways to make improvements to our model. So, please feel free to make suggestions.

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Thank you @mattmcalister for the detailed answer!

[…] it values each Brave Today source with a match in your browser history and adds weight to the articles from those sources amongst the list of articles available.

I can see that this is much better than the Facebook standard. However, this still seems to reinforce what users believe anyway. For example, if users only look at a few extreme fringe media, this would still mostly show them news from this particular angle, right? Don’t get me wrong, there is value in being selective about sources because different users are interested in different things. But about those things users should see more than one angle (which is done by some sources, but not all).

Your claim that the most recent news is the least fact-checked is inaccurate. The opposite may be true in many cases, particularly amongst the major news outlets with large teams of editors. If a source in Brave Today does not meet your standard for verification and validity then simply remove it from your list.

Major news outlets may well do rigorous fact checking, but if something is recent, then it is more likely that not all relevant information is available. We often get a very different picture about what happened when we look at it in retrospective. We see this frequently, for example, in scientific publications (best papers are those that withstand the test of time).

The publishing frequency […] doesn’t reward frequency. […] This way a monthly or weekly publication will get similar exposure to an hourly one in your feed.

I totally misunderstood that. Thanks for clarification!

You may be thinking about the way social media feeds work in your critique above, though we will always look for ways to make improvements to our model. So, please feel free to make suggestions.

Ok, this was only one round of back and forth and I am not sure we already agree on what is/isn’t a problem. But since you ask, here are a few thoughts.

From my (now updated) point of view, two problems remain. First, selecting a news source filters for both topic and perspective, where the former is desirable and the latter is not. Second, “news”, by their nature, focus on things that are not normal (otherwise they’d not be new), which can miss important context. Good news agencies do give a lot of background information to put things into context, but it takes effort on the user side to dive into this context. I think Brave Today could help make this easier for users and become more of a news-research tool than just a news-feed.

So here are two ideas. First, give users a way to dig into a particular topic from different angles. Here is an example of how this might look like for political topics. The site I linked offers sliders for political stance, writing style, shelf-life, and so on. It’s not quite perfect, but a step in a good direction I think.

My second idea is to add relevant statistics to the feed. I.e. some cards show statistics like “most common causes of death in France” or “distribution of wealth across the world” according to official sources. What statistic is shown could depend on the topic of the surrounding news cards. This idea is tricky because most people don’t know how to interpret statistics (e.g. who knows what Simpson’s paradox is?), but I think something in this direction would be interesting to explore because it unites users in a more coherent and realistic world view.

Thank you for taking this seriously and building great software!

If I can add a remark. The presentation itsel, its formate appear to slow the result. On Bing, i pointed that I did not news fed to be customed on my habits…it offored mostly MSM left-democrat righteous leaning news…I then added follow my habit, hoping it would pick up I don’t read much of the MSMs garbage, and I am centrist, even if volatile in positioning…unpredictable to most people or AI. I got still the same crap.
I appreciate we have a slew of content to chose on on brave today, but I had to reduce to about 6 choices out of one hundred you offer, so left leaning, democrat where the content offered. Still, I got news which appeared to all be left leaning and democrat.
I would appreciate maybe more general choices but like MSM, marginal, center, center right, lefty, etc…A bit like kazada.com offers as thumb boards of media.
On the other hand, I understand that offering such a ressources is time and allocation consuming, and I understand you don’t have the resources of either microsoft or google.
So for now I do without it and appreciate the experience of Brave.
Thank you…