When reading the news, people should ideally form opinions of the events in question based on the actual merits being reported. However, a frequent approach is: “Is this something that my nation or my political party did? Then I’m sure it’s good.”
Although this is undeniably often a successful heuristic (e.g. “cannibal cult proposes new regulations on food” should probably be viewed with suspicion), it often leads people to be unable to judge anything based on its actual merits.
For example, imagine that a person reads these headlines:
- “The regime’s* intelligence chief has called for the execution of a whistleblower who is taking refuge in a rival nation” [* “Bad guy” countries are frequently governed by “regimes.”]
- “Regime has been torturing its foes in a secret prison.”
That person might respond with outrage: “How could a country operate in such a way. The citizens must be cowards, or they’d be protesting in the streets!”
But the same person would probably have a much less emphatic reaction if a headline “gave away” the plot twist that the country is, in fact, the reader’s own (Figure 1).
The proposal is simple: articles are re-written to anonymize (or randomized) the various actors mentioned in various stories. Anyone reading these articles will now have to actually judge them based on the merits of the story (or at least feel foolish when they change their mind upon learning the true participants in the story).
Besides the names of nations, there are also many other possible categories that an article randomizer could swap (Figure 3)—language, race, religion, political affiliation, cat/dog person, etc.—the options are endless.
This would probably be a legitimately great browser plugin. Sort of like a more controversial version of the “Millennials to Snake People” plugin (https://www.google.com/search?q=millenials+to+snake+people).
PROS: Might encourage people to think about important topics, rather than just instantly judging them based on the participants.
CONS: A person who judges an article based on their own opinions might form an opinion different from their peers. Unacceptable!