As humans, we are psychologically biased toward news that backs up our own viewpoints, and the rise of a personalized-to-your-preferences Internet may be magnifying this problem. As awareness of the algorithms that bubble us in grows, though, a whole genre of websites, mobile apps, and browser extensions is popping up to help get you outside your comfort zone.
What is a filter bubble, and why should you burst it?
Coined in 2010 by Eli Parisier, the term “filter bubble” refers to the phenomenon of being isolated from information that differs from your preferred viewpoints. While humans have a tendency to do this on our own by choosing to read certain sources, social media, search engines, and other information-age services have built their business around learning what you like and showing it to you – including news. It’s like listening to one side of a telephone call: you can infer what the other side is saying, but you’re probably missing some nuance.
Here are some balanced news aggregators that show you the actual reality rather than what you want to see.
AllSides is a news aggregator that draws well-written articles on the same topic from three different websites – one each from the left, center, and right. They have actually patented their system for rating media bias using blind surveys (people rate articles’ bias without knowing the source), third-party research, and community feedback. They recognize that their system will never be perfect, but you’re unlikely to find any other sources trying this hard to be balanced.
Unfortunately, they do not currently have an official app, though they do have a Chrome extension that lets you know the AllSides rating for the site you’re visiting.
2. The Perspective
AllSides is mostly politics, but The Perspective covers a broad range of news, from sports to science. While it’s a bit less data-driven than AllSides, it is easier to read. Rather than just linking to the articles, The Perspective offers summaries recognizing that asking people to read three articles on every issue is a bit impractical. You can choose how deep to go: you can skim the one-sentence summary of each side, read the paragraph summary of the article, or click through and read the whole piece. While the articles and summaries come from human content curators, which may expose them to some bias, they are generally quite fair.
3. Perspecs News
Perspecs is a publication from the Trinity Mirror, one of Britain’s largest newspaper publishers. While it lacks the transparency and scientific approach of AllSides and isn’t quite as sleek as The Perspective, it does have some nicely-made apps. It focuses not only on left, center, and right political news, but also on other controversial news with a yes/no side, which gives it some variety and makes it interesting to read. The fact that it’s owned by a U.K newspaper group may raise some questions about bias, but the material is usually interesting and intuitively presented.
CivikOwl is an owl that lives in your Chrome browser and tells you about “hoo” you’re reading. It draws data from AllSides and MediaBiasFactCheck to analyze the credibility and left/right bias of the publication as well as using its own machine-learning algorithm to vet the quality of the article’s sources. If it can find alternative takes on the same story, it will show you those as well. It’s lightweight, unintrusive, and fun to use – who doesn’t want to hear what a civically-minded owl has to say about your news?
5. Read Across the Aisle
Read Across the Aisle is a Chrome extension that turns your browser into a comprehensive analysis of your news habits, welcoming you to each new tab with a visual representation of the percentage of your time that you spend on certain media sites. If it sees you spending too much time reading from sources on one side of the aisle, it will helpfully suggest that you try taking a look at another viewpoint.
The only downside: if you’re not a Chrome user you’ll need to start reading all your news in Chrome to get an accurate analysis. It also comes as an iOS app, but it only tracks stories that you read within the app itself.
It’s a pun on “politico,” funny, right? It’s also an interesting way to analyze your Facebook friend group and see how balanced they are politically. You install PolitEcho in Chrome, hook it up to your Facebook, and let it analyze your friends’ Likes and posting frequency. When it’s finished, Politecho returns a graph showing you where your friends most likely fall on the left-center-right spectrum.
If Cambridge Analytica has made you justifiably nervous about third-party apps rifling through your data, don’t worry — Politecho does all the data-crunching locally, on your own computer, and doesn’t send your personal data anywhere. While it’s hardly perfect, it really works best for your hardline left/right friends.
Are these sites and apps the answer?
The Internet provides easy access to an almost infinite amount of information, and these sites and apps can help you find some things you might otherwise miss. However, bubbles and echo chambers were problems long before the Internet and probably aren’t going away anytime soon. These tools aren’t a cure by any means, but they’re a great place to experiment with getting outside your informational comfort zone.