It’s time to burst your media bubble


Demonstrators playfully squaring off in Washington, DC, 21 January 2017.
(Photo by Enrique Shore)

By Nelson Graves

Worried about alternative facts? Try entering an alternative universe.

Like it or not, each of us lives in a media bubble that reinforces our convictions and thwarts us from understanding The Other Side.

In the analog era, citizens had media masters — editors at home-town newspapers, national TV channels and radio stations with limited broadcast signals — who determined what we knew about the world.

Back in the day, media outlets tended toward the middle of the ideological road. That kept advertisers and subscribers happy — and fostered political consensus.

Now it’s a digital free-for-all, and the consumer is king. Each of us decides what we see and hear, and when we want it. Facebook pitches in with an algorithm that ensures you see what you like to see. For added measure, Facebook lets advertisers know when you’re sniffing around for that new car or when your baby is due.

We’ve sorted ourselves into silos, widening a political divide that has paralyzed the U.S. Congress and driven more than one family member away from the same dinner table.

Step into someone else’s shoes.

Just how bad is it?

The Wall Street Journal has developed a tool that allows you to see liberal and conservative Facebook feeds, side by side. Take a quick look at the feeds and you”ll see how people can live in the same nation state but inhabit completely different media universes.

What to do about it?

Well, a series of applications has emerged that can help you burst your bubble.

  • A new Google Chrome extension called PolitEcho analyzes your Facebook feed to determine where you and your “friends” stand on the political spectrum.
  • A program called EscapeYourBubble replaces ads on your social network with articles that capture a point of view you may not have considered.

Another new Chrome extension created by researchers at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology allows you to step into a Twitter feed belonging to someone with radically different political views. It’s called FlipFeed.

We tested FlipFeed at News-Decoder. Below, on the left, are tweets from News-Decoder’s Twitter feed. On the right, you can see tweets from alternative feeds that FlipFeed assembled from consenting users of the extension.

Contrasting perspectives on the same events — in line with News-Decoder’s mission to challenge our assumptions and examine different outlooks.

And, yes, we need to broaden our Twitter feed at News-Decoder.




  • Fresh perspective and excellent analysis of the media.

  • Nelson, this is a fine piece. It’s probably not enough to glance at the FoxNews website every morning. I share ND material with my classes most every week and will start pushing them – some can actually write a cohesive, coherent paragraph – to contribute. Do you take unsolicited material? What is the process. There seems to be an increasing amount of concern about both domestic and international issues, particularly among undergraduate students, over the past two semesters.

    Hope all is well with Laure and you. Margel sends her best.


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