New Site Lets Users Police Media Bias
From hotels and restaurants to products and services, we are a rate-and-review society. Even if we aren’t the ones giving five stars, we are whipping out our smartphones and looking for the evaluations of others before we go to dinner, buy the latest novel, or go see a movie.
But aside from debates that crop up in corners of the web, there’s never been a centralized digital space where people can find out if films, magazines, websites, textbooks, and podcasts contain harmful biases and stereotypes. Now a first-of-its-kind website, Rate My Media, lets the public rate and review whether various forms of media are equitable and inclusive.
Launched in August by Brendesha Tynes, an entrepreneur and a professor at the University of Southern California’s Rossier School of Education, the website is like Yelp for race and diversity. Tynes told TakePart that she wants the website “to be the place that people who care about equity and inclusion go to, to find out—whether it’s something they’re potentially going to buy or go and see—how [the media is] doing on these issues.”
The website allows people to easily add items to rate and review and see what other users have submitted. Users can “determine whether or not they will move forward and engage with whatever form of media it is, based on what they find on our site,” Tynes said.
The idea of using technology as a tool for fighting discrimination stems from Tynes’ academic work on digital media and youths. She was inspired to create Rate My Media after reading last fall about how Texas mother Roni Dean-Burren challenged the description of Africans laboring on American plantations as “workers” instead of slaves in her son Coby’s World Geography textbook. Thanks to Dean-Burren’s efforts, publisher McGraw-Hill reviewed the text, reissued corrected copies to schools, and said it would diversify its team of reviewers.
“More often than not, we don’t accurately represent people of color in education materials, so we have a lot of work to do,” Tynes said. Rate My Media goes beyond education media because Tynes recognized that the materials adopted by schools are not the only items that contain bias.
“There is also the UCLA [Hollywood] Diversity Report, which shows that people of color are not accurately or adequately represented. This is despite the fact that we see the most diverse generation in the history of the U.S. coming of age,” Tynes said.
Rate My Media’s community of users will address inequitable choices in media, call out inaccuracies, and provide historical perspectives. “A clear example of historical inaccuracies would be the movie Exodus that was supposed to be about ancient Egypt, but most of the actors were white,” Tynes said. “There has been a long history of depicting Egyptians as white, but you just need to read historical texts like UNESCO’s General History of Africa to know that Egyptians were black- and brown-skinned.”
After they sign up to the site, Tynes recommends that new users review its content rating rubric, which acts as a guideline to the three categories—equity and inclusion, overall content quality, and learning. Once the website becomes a mobile app, it will “make it easy for people to do the ratings,” Tynes said, because “it’s the best way for people to engage with the ratings and the site more broadly.”
Tynes hopes people will use the site to know who’s getting it right. “We want to highlight people who’ve brought a diverse group of writers, for example, to the table,” she said.
Given that Rate My Media is new, there’s no measurable data on its influence. But Tynes predicts the tool will help “move the country forward and toward more equity and inclusion in media broadly” because it will slowly begin “to highlight people who are actually representing people in their full humanity.”