How to burst your news bubble

Some new products with Philadelphia-area ties are trying to help Americans burst their news bubbles.

As more Americans get their news online and from social media, we can select the sites and sources we want to read, leading to an increasingly filtered view. We follow news outlets, writers and organizations we tend to agree with. And social media sites' algorithms serve us more content similar to items we've already liked.

The term "filter bubble" became more common after a 2011 TED talk by online organizer Eli Pariser, who argued that we get trapped in bubbles that don't expose us to information that broadens or challenges our views.

And in the wake of President Trump's election and inauguration, there's been much more talk of the country's divisions – political, ideological, socioeconomic, geographical. So if you're looking to break out of your filter bubble, get news from a greater variety of sources and expand your perspective, what, exactly, can you do? 

A recently launched Philadelphia newsletter aims to help news consumers do exactly that. Here's a guide to taking advantage of such options and breaking your personal news bubble.

Step 1: Figure out how big of a bubble you need to burst.

PBS NewsHour has a quiz, based one developed by the libertarian political scientist and author Charles Murray, that you can take to determine the extent of your bubble. The questions ask about your background, experiences, family, friends and cultural habits, and your score indicates how filtered your lifestyle is.

Step 2: Broaden your news consumption.

There are websites, apps and extensions in varying degrees of development that aim to help readers get news they wouldn't otherwise see.

  • Wharton students have developed an email newsletter called PolarNews, which sends subscribers articles that offer different opinions on a specific subject. "We personally believe that having a place for discourse and some sort of forum that is relevant and engaging is the thing that’s needed in the physical and virtual spaces," Davis Filippell, one of the newsletter's editors, told Technical.ly Philly. "Now more than ever, given the way the election went, having this content available in one look and one form will help foster that conversation."
  • The Wall Street Journal's Blue Feed, Red Feed site shows different Facebook looks to conservative-aligned users vs. liberal-oriented users. You can select a topic and see side-by-side streams populated with red- or blue-leaning sources for that issue.
  • An app called Read Across the Aisle, being developed now, aims to nudge users to read articles with a different perspective from stories they normally choose. "Sort of like a Fitbit will remind you that you've been sitting on the couch for too long, and hey, you should get up and walk around, this is a tool that will have a reminder that you've been reading mostly on one side," Nick Lum, the founder of the startup that made the app and a Swarthmore College graduate, told Fast Company.
  • Browser extensions like Escape Your Bubble let you choose who you want to understand better, and insert curated posts from that perspective in your Facebook news feed.

Step 3: Don't ignore opposing articles or social-media friends and followers with whom you disagree.

The filtered perspective we see on social media is often of our own creation. So to keep your feed from becoming too narrow, don't unfriend people based on their beliefs, don't delete comments you dislike, follow media outlets you disagree with, engage with those who have different views and flag fake news, Mashable tech editor Pete Pachal writes.

Step 4: Really try to understand the other side.

It's not enough to just read opposing viewpoints, argues Tyler Cowen, a George Mason University economics professor. You might just end up further cementing your own beliefs, he wrote on Bloomberg View. Instead, Cowen suggests a test: Try to write out the views of someone with an opinion contrary to your own, "in a way that would be indistinguishable from the writings of supporters."