Sentry is a speculative concept designed to tackle some of the key issues that support the spread of 'fake news', one of societies greatest growing challenges.
The aim was to design a physical product that sparks discussion about an intangible issue to raise awareness of potential ways forward.
Challenging unethical and exploitative strategies found in social media and digital news, Sentry provides critique on the state of journalism. Rising anxiety in what the public can trust has intensified polarisation in the political system and now trust in government and media is at an all-time low.
Sentry is designed to harness the disruptive power of the smartphone, stripping it of clickbait and addictive features, whilst focussing on creating a distraction-free micro-break.
'Fake News' or disinformation is one of the biggest crises in our society, it harms our collective decision-making ability and has depleted the public's trust in the institutions that serve us. The concept of instant news from digital publications and social media has backfired on the public and is not encouraging real, constructive engagement in important matters.
Basic research kicked things off, describing the terms that define the problem and using industry reports to find the current state of news. The Reuters and Oxford University Digital News Report helped form an understanding of the issues and how the industry is changing, whilst trend forecasts from WGSN helped develop an understanding of the near future of consumer habits.
Interviews with varying levels of reader and analysis of current media, such as newspapers and apps, uncovered the problems with bad journalism whilst also giving an example of what good organisations do well. Many focus groups were used throughout the process to gain insights from as many people as possible.
Peer-reviewed papers were used to find potential solutions and in-depth research on the matter, helping to develop potential solutions. The publication of the UK Parliamentary Report on Disinformation and 'fake news' came at a perfect time to piece the solutions together.
Extensive user testing with mock-ups and a final prototype, along with interviews with researchers in interaction design and media finalised the outcome and helped quantify the success of Sentry.
How it Works
Sentry works by incentivising time for reflection by introducing friction in the process. This makes each interaction far more considered and thoughtful, allowing the reader to make deliberate decisions. An active mind is less likely to fall for fake news.
With a focus on tactile interaction to provoke the brain, people are encouraged to find a distraction-free moment to engage. The touch screen of the phone is disabled, disconnecting the usual, lazy habits associated with social media.
The product helps to provide a sense of exploration and study to excite and gain knowledge. This makes the reader look for what they actually want to read, rather than having popular items and clickbait pushed at them with hidden agendas.
Areas of interest are prioritised over publications and authors, allowing for all sides to a story. This provides a wide range of reputable sources, from varying stances. Sentry promotes a deep understanding of topics that are of personal interest to the reader, with a deeper knowledge comes a lesser likelihood of believing disinformation. This also means readers can keep up to date on stories that may have been forgotten by mainstream media's news cycle.
The large, brutalist form was chosen to envoke a sense of trust from the product, imagining a world where all the tricks and fakery has been eroded away. This is a monolith to truth, inspired by architecture and dystopia like 1984.
Sentry was designed primarily as a statement piece. Whilst the product itself may not be the answer to fake news, the habits and ideas it proposes can help people rethink their relationship with news for the better. It is designed to create awareness around fake news, and hopefully to get people talking about the problem.
Can you trust the news that you read?
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This is pretty naive.
I admit, whilst I did use the recent buzz around ‘fake news’ as the inspiration behind tackling this issue, I have acknowledged throughout that ‘fake news’ has always been a problem, and always will be and I never aimed to eradicate it.
It's an interesting concept, and an exploration of a persistent anxiety around truth, which isn't unique to this era, though it has come back into the broader consciousness in the age of the Internet. The idea that this device, which provides a stream of information "without bias," could exist external to any ideology, is of course a nice fantasy, but as a piece that is itself meant to provoke thought and conversation around the nature of truth, propaganda, bias etc. I feel it works.
What struck me as off, however, was taking inspiration from dystopian architecture and evoking 1984 in order to give a sense of "monolithic" truth. This is a majorly mixed metaphor; the brutalist style we imagine in the architecture of these dystopian societies is a facade (no pun) to hide the underlying falsehood; that the societies are not built on truth and justice, as their outward facing elements are meant to suggest. Borrowing a form language from something more humanist or natural would have been more consistent with the messaging, but I suppose I'm letting my own ideology show a little there ;)
Yeah, it’s very much a nice fantasy that there wouldn’t be some bias to this curation of news. That is why though I felt the importance to really push the tactility. I debated a lot about why this couldn’t just be a digital platform, and the impossibility of avoiding bias was the main reason. The tactility slows down the reader for more considered reading whilst also promoting focus, with the hope to introduce new habits.
I thought it was trying to be like the DNA searching machine from BR2049, which I suppose is also brutalist/dystopian architecture.
It does nothing to eradicate the logical fallacies that lead to this behavior, the most important of which is confirmation bias. But the person designing this probably that there are easy answers and that fake news is anything that does not readily embrace these easy answers. Therefor a little reflection is all that is needed for people to error of their ways.
One of my major breakthroughs during my research was a paper from Pennycook and Rand, which discussed how a reader’s susceptibility to fake news is actually less to do with their preconceptions and confirmation bias, but their attentiveness whilst reading, where a distracted or lazy reading may be more likely to believe falsehoods.