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Rbutr helps journalists see the other side of the story

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Rbutr helps journalists see the other side of the story

Tracie Powell, Poynter | June 18, 2012

Need to find a quick rebuttal to a news report or opinion piece you read online? There’s now an app for that.

Introducing Rbutr.com, a new digital platform that uses crowdsourcing to provide arguments and counter-arguments on any number of subjects. It’s sort of like Wikipedia meets Politifact, but without journalists or other experts necessarily in the mix.

The application, which allows people to follow inter-website debates and easily find counter-arguments to information they are viewing, was dreamed up by Australian Shane Greenup about a year ago when he wanted to debunk a scientific report he saw online. A philosophy and molecular biology major, 30-year-old Greenup partnered with software developer Craig O’Shannessy in February to bring his idea to fruition.

The site has gained wide attention in a few short months.

In April, Rbutr was named one of the top 10 startups that could change the face of news. It is also among the top finalists for a $250,000 prize offered by the Knight News Challenge, which seeks to accelerate media innovation by funding breakthrough ideas in news and information. Greenup also recently received $40,000 from Start-up Chile to digitally map the natural world in a project called Immortal Outdoors, but his focus has since changed to Rbutr.

“Rbutr was getting a lot more interest than Immortal Outdoors and was much better suited for this program,” Greenup said.

Rbutr is a browser plug-in that users download to their computers. While viewing an article, the user can hover over the green and white Rbutr logo in the browser’s top right-hand corner to see if there are any rebuttals to what they are reading. If no rebuttals exist, Rbutr will allow the user to request rebuttals from other community members or submit her own.

After attempting to test a few online news articles — for which there were no rebuttals on Rbutr — I then viewed an opinion piece that was already in the system: “Did Jesus Foresee The Constitution,” by Andrew Sullivan, published May 29. Rbutr alerted me to a single rebuttal to the piece by displaying a red number one within its logo at the top of the screen. Submitted by a user going by the name of mapman, I then read the counterpoint entitled, “Andrew Sullivan: Conservative Mormons Will Be Crazy Politicians; Moderate Ones Won’t,” by Ryan Bell, posted May 31 at MormonAmerican.com.

For someone like me who is more interested in news than opinion, Rbuter wasn’t all that useful because there weren’t any rebuttals to the news articles I chose. I think a better mix of opinion of news articles and opinion pieces is needed, which is likely to come as the user community grows.

To read the full article, click here.

This article first appeared on Poynter Online, IJNet’s partner and the website of the Poynter Institute, a school serving journalism and democracy for more than 35 years. Poynter offers news and training that fits any schedule, with individual coaching, in-person seminars, online courses, webinars and more. The complete article is translated into IJNet’s six other languages with permission.

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