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Dario Nassal: Busting out of the echo chamber

© Buzzard

26. August 2021

Whether the issue is migration, climate change or the transport transition, debates in society are becoming increasingly bitter. People with different views are adopting increasingly polarised positions – a development that has intensified in the coronavirus crisis. Dario Nassal and Felix Friedrich want to soften the hardened fronts. Their news app, “Buzzard”, seeks to give airtime to all sides of the political spectrum in current debates and thus to enable readers to change their perspective.

Name: Dario Nassal

Age: 29

Occupation: Founder and CEO of Buzzard

Website: www.buzzard.org

What is Buzzard?

Buzzard is a news app that makes it easy for news readers to break out of their own echo chamber and to arrive at more diverse and nuanced opinions on political issues in a short time. At Buzzard you will find a range of opinions from newspapers, magazines and blogs from across the political spectrum, from left to right. From Monday to Friday, the Buzzard team curates op-eds from a pool of 1,800 German and English-language sources on two current hot topics and one debate, summarising them and classifying them journalistically. The Buzzard news app is ad-free and independent. It is financed by more than 3,000 paying supporters as well as foundations and companies that can book discounted subscriptions and workshops for their employees and trainees.

How did the idea come about?

Felix Friedrich and I had the idea while studying politics in Mannheim. As aspiring journalists and political nerds, we noticed how polarised current debates were on issues such as the climate, the debt crisis and migration. And how difficult it was even for highly interested news readers to get a daily overview of the entire range of political perspectives and thus to arrive at nuanced opinions – free of the echo chambers and fake news that abound on the social media. There was no such platform, so we decided to build one.

„Discourse at the societal level between people with different views is no longer taking place. And yet, we need to talk to each other to find common solutions for the future.“

Dario Nassal, founder of Buzzard

The world needs Buzzard because ...

... discourse in our society is becoming increasingly radicalised. More and more people are living in their bubbles. This is increasingly evident not just online, but also in real life. This has become particularly clear during the coronavirus pandemic: families are being split down the middle because some family members are going to lateral thinker demos while others are supportive of the measures and getting worried. Politicians enforcing the coronavirus measures are receiving death threats, as are activists from #allesdichtmachen who are critical of those measures. In many major debates, the opposing camps are openly hostile to each other. Discourse at the societal level between people with different views is no longer taking place. And yet, we need to talk to each other to find common solutions for the future. This has never been more important than it is now, seeing as we’re arriving at a huge turning point in the face of climate change. As a society, we need to be talking once again about solutions and exchanging arguments, not throwing hate speech around – even if we don’t share the same opinions. We’re working with a new media format to ensure that people can develop more understanding for the motives of those who think differently from them. This will put our discourse back on a constructive course and allow us to find solutions to the major challenges of our time.

Doesn't a fee-based product run the risk of only picking up the people who are already open to other positions and opinions?

With Buzzard, we’re reaching people from the opposite ends of the political spectrum. Even those who no longer use the established media because they feel they’re being force-fed opinions. This is important because it’s how Buzzard is bringing people with very different political views back to a single platform. There they can use arguments and verified facts as a basis for information rather than shielding themselves from contrary opinions in echo chambers and, in the worst-case scenario, becoming radicalised. It’s true, however, that, especially in this early phase, we’re often reaching the early adopters who like using a lot of journalistic media in any case. This is why we’ve expanded our offer: in collaboration with foundations and corporate partners, we’re currently offering the app free of charge to teachers and students in eleven German states and holding workshops at pilot schools where we’re evaluating the use of the app in the classroom and gathering feedback from young people. From our point of view, going to schools is essential, because, as a journalist, you can also reach young people who don’t have a subscription to a major news periodical lying around at home, who didn’t grow up in a big city with academic parents. If we can inspire these young people to get their political information from a whole range of opinions, to weigh up arguments, to compare facts with reports from other media and not simply to share them unchecked, then we’ll really be able to change things. After all, what happens to our democracy in the future is going to depend on the young generation.

How do you choose your subjects, and how do you ensure that all perspectives are actually represented?

From our pool of 1,800 sources, which we search daily, we distil hot topics and issues of debate that are making the headlines in German and English-language media – by which I mean being discussed in at least five national media. Our focus is on political and socio-political issues in Germany, but we also deal with international political conflicts and debates. We’ve chosen to focus on the hot topics because we see ourselves primarily as a mirror to the media that offers diversity and an overview of the issues that are already being widely discussed in the media and in society. We then collect opinion pieces, essays, editorials, interviews and reports published on these topics in newspapers, magazines and blogs and group them based on the different arguments. From these points of view, we then select six to eight perspectives per issue which represent the published spectrum of opinions as broadly as possible for each issue. What really matters here is the diversity of perspectives per issue, the expertise of the authors, that the arguments are reasoned and that there’s no incitement or spreading of (right-wing) extremist propaganda. All the criteria for selection are shown in detail on our methodology page.

In the public trial phase in 2019, there was some criticism that contributions from right-wing extremist and ideologically driven conspiracy blogs were also presented in Buzzard debates. What criteria do you now use to select opinion pieces and media?

Extremism and conspiracy ideologies have no place on Buzzard. The criticism, which referred to the pilot phase and the first Buzzard prototypes of 2017, helped us to clearly define those points at which we raise the red flag in the media. In collaboration with the journalistic advisory board and our community, we’ve agreed on the following criteria: As a matter of principle, we don’t include media that are classified as anti-constitutional, call for violence against people, trivialise the Holocaust or other crimes against humanity, openly support extremist organisations and groups or are closely networked with them or don’t publish any legal information, so it’s hard to tell who’s behind them. Moreover, all articles on Buzzard are carefully checked and classified journalistically. In the editors’ comments on each article, we reveal the background to the media in question and the authors of the article.

What's next for Buzzard?

Our vision is to become Europe’s largest platform for political perspectives and, like apps in other areas – such as Headspace for meditation – eventually to help millions of people worldwide to arrive at nuanced political opinions, even if there’s little time for that kind of thing in everyday life. Last year, we grew from 1,500 supporters to over 3,000 members. We’re currently launching media expertise pilot projects in eleven states and regions in Germany – with partners such as the Media Foundation of Sparkasse Leipzig, the taz Panter Foundation and the European Institute for Journalism and Communication Research. The next step will be to launch Buzzard as a podcast or in audio format and to expand the school projects throughout Germany. After that, we want to establish the community in other countries where it’s even more difficult to arrive at a balanced political opinion.

Which digital product can you do without?

Smartwatches, which cause us to merge even more often with notifications, e-mails and updates from social media, aren’t exactly conducive to personal balance in a world of constant information overload.

Would you like a household robot?

Yes, as long as it doesn't break glasses or make socks disappear.

Which technical application will always remain a mystery for you?

Music with autotune vocals. For me, the human ability to sing and the fact that no two human voices ever sound the same and that each voice bears within it the character of the body and the person who is blessed with it, are some of Nature’s beautiful mysteries. Do we really want to mess with it digitally – quite apart from the fact that it just sounds dull and tasteless?

When were you last offline for 24 hours?

Last Sunday, on a short trip to a Brandenburg lake.

A holiday without Wi-Fi: Is that a dream or a nightmare?

A dream! When I’m on holiday, I find doing short periods of digital detox very important for deep relaxation and would highly recommend it.

 

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