For a while I have had Flipboard installed on my iPhone and iPad. The interface is nice, and it is quite a good way of discovering news. But the algorithms and human selection used for news on the platform leave a lot to be desired. Sometimes, one ends up discovering important news precisely because the algorithms fail so badly.
For instance, I have The Guardian set up in Flipboard as a source. But the stories it seems to prioritise from the Guardian are those dealing pretty much exclusively with Australia, including comments written about the Australian government as “our government”, even though I’m pretty sure The Guardian is a British newspaper, what with having visited their London offices a few times. Quite why I only get Australian news, I’m not sure.
Recently, I tried to set up a whole stack more feeds inside Flipboard so I could—in a bid to be a more informed global citizen—better monitor news from countries whose names don’t start with the word “United”.
The international feeds that Flipboard has recommended to me are astoundingly terrible. The feed on Germany seems to be primarily about the products of Volkswagen, BMW and Mercedes rather than about the politics and current affairs of the country in which those companies are based.
The feed for Brazil seems to be mainly about the Brazilian men’s national soccer team or the World Cup, and the remainder of the stories are light fluff about travel to Brazil. This is in spite of the fact that Brazil has been undergoing massive waves of political protests in many of its major cities in response to the revelation of large-scale corruption of the country’s national oil and gas company, Petrobras. Said protests—in addition to the economic situation of the country—have left President Dilma Rousseff fighting for her political life as she was involved in the running of Petrobras before becoming President. The fate of the elected leader of the fifth largest country in the world—and the investigation into alleged corruption on contracts worth up to $22 billion—is obviously far less important than competing teams of men kicking a ball around a field.
Today, I just checked the feed for Japan. The first two stories are regarding the success of the Japanese women’s soccer team, then a story about scientific research from Japan. Then another story about robots. Then a human interest story about Pokémon. Then a story about sekusu shinai shokogun—the alleged celibacy of Japan’s “herbivore men”, and the alleged demographic impacts. I say alleged because there’s some debate about whether this is actually real or not. More about the women’s football team. A solar powered plane—okay, that’s moderately interesting. Ooh, an actually interesting story: “Toyota’s top female executive steps down after arrest in Japan”. Three more stories about the women’s football. Then a story about sushi. Hard hitting news.
Let’s try Denmark. “Danish festival recycles urine to make beer” is the top story, followed by the eminently less important “Denmark to cut asylum-seeker benefits under new leaders”. Oh yeah, the Danes had an election two weeks ago and Helle Thorning-Schmidt’s Social Democrats were replaced by a centre-right coalition led by Lars Løkke Rasmussen. I might have missed it because of headlines about people drinking beer made from their own piss.
How about Ireland? Top headline from there is “No Highway to Hell for AC/DC as their Irish fans are Thunderstruck”. Yep. A 70s rock band played a concert in Dublin yesterday. Flipboard also informed me that the Irish singer Val Doonican died, and pointed me to an article on the Huffington Post website about important moral lessons I could learn from watching the Irish version of The Bachelorette. Nowhere in the Irish news did it bother to inform me that yesterday, former Taoisearch Brian Cowan was brought in front of an inquiry to defend his handling of the financial crisis. Neither did Flipboard’s Ireland feed tell me anything about the remarks from Irish president Michael D. Higgins about Europe’s handling of refugees. I mean, I guess I’m sort of fuddy-duddy, what with the strange, old-fashioned assumption that reporting what the President of a European nation thinks about the Europe-wide refugee crisis is more important than a story about The Bachelorette.
Okay, perhaps I’ve just had a run of bad luck with news from Japan, Brazil, Denmark and Ireland. Let’s try Italy then. “Is This The Hottest Bar in Italy?” reads the first headline. Probably not. “3 of the best Piedmont reds”. Yawn. Swipe. “Trafficker gets 18 years in jail over Italian shipwreck that killed 366 migrants”. Okay, some actual news.
This is Silicon Valley’s vision of the future of news. Bullshit listicles about reality shows and wine and rock concerts being more important than stories about wars, refugees, terrorism, economic crises and the flow of political power. Thank you, Facebook. Thank you, Upworthy. Thank you, “disruption”. Please go swallow some recycled piss.