Preventing Polarization on Social Media (Part 1)

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If, like me, you’re tired of the seemingly unceasing stream of polarizing commentary and interactions, you may be interested in the following resources that seek to change the current trajectory of our social media discourse. We offer this as an initial collection of depolarizing resources. There may be more (and if you are aware of any, please let us know). As far as we can tell, however, this is the first compilation of an emerging toolbox for resisting polarization. Check them out and let us know what you think.

[In case you’re concerned, these are not affiliate links, and none of these organizations has ever contacted us; this is simply the result of our organic and unsolicited interest.]

Tool Description Strategy
All Sides

allsides

Shows news stories from left-, center-, and right-leaning outlets. Compare treatment of news across political perspectives.
Blue Feed, Red Feed

BlueRedFeed

Wall Street Journal graphic that shows opposing feeds side by side Glimpse other side, notice differences.
Escape Your Bubble

heart

Google Chrome extension (or newsletter) that inserts curated articles from the political perspective you’d like to understand better into your Facebook feed. Read positive articles from other side of the aisle.
FlipFeed

FlipFeed step into someone else s Twitter feed

Google extension that lets you flip through feeds of real Twitter users. Glimpse other side, notice differences.
Outside Your Bubble

Outside Your Bubble outsideyourbubble on BuzzFeed

Beta feature in Buzzfeed that compiles a variety of comments  from different sites on widely shared articles Disrupt silos by bringing in outside comments.
Politecho

PolitEcho

Analyzes your Facebook newsfeed for bias. Provides graphics that represent the political leanings of your Facebook friends (and, consequently, of your bubble). Visualizing political distribution (and potential bias) of social network
Pop Your Bubble

Pop Your Bubble

Helps you follow 10 people from different perspectives on social media. Expose to different views, disrupt the homogeneity of news feed.
Read Across the Aisle

Read Across The Aisle

News reader app that shows political leanings of articles and tracks which ones you read. If you tend to read on one side of the aisle, a pop-up will suggest you consider reading something from the other side, and it may make suggestions. Make aware of reading habits, expose to other forums.

There are obviously issues with some of these approaches. Who decides what counts as  “mainstream America”? How trustworthy are the algorithms that identify the political leaning of social media users, and might they tend to select extreme examples? Is mere exposure to the thinking of the other side sufficient? While we harbor some concerns about these tools, we appreciate their makers’ efforts to resist polarization and encourage others to follow suit.

What do you think? What seems promising here, and what seems problematic? What other tools are there (or could there be) to help us depolarize our discourse and “fix” social media?

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6 thoughts on “Preventing Polarization on Social Media (Part 1)

  1. I agree that polarization is a major problem and I appreciate efforts to combat it. However, I worry that this activity may not encourage consideration of thoughts outside of the two-party duopoly mindset. Opening yourself up to the one other “mainstream” opposing view is still quite limiting and might only give the illusion of fully considering all sides of an issue. So, is the purpose to understand the individual on the other side of the aisle or to more fully review understand the issue in its totality?

    1. Good question, Michael. I agree that many of these tools rely on a binary (i.e. republican/democrat) paradigm, which may, in fact, be detrimental (if not in terms of polarization, perhaps in terms of deeply understanding the issues). Ideally, we’d want a well-informed electorate that considered all sides of an issue AND understood (and respected) their counterparts at other points along the spectrum. The way I read your comment, it seems like you’re suggesting that understandings issues in their totality is the most important thing. Do you think that should be prioritized above understanding “the individual on the other side of the aisle”? I’d love to hear more.

      1. David, in my mind, the full and accurate understanding of an issue is more important. I believe that having as clear as picture of any given issue as possible (the “truth” for lack of a better term) better allows you to understand how different perspectives on that same “truth” could lead to different interpretations and thus different opinions on policy. In this paradigm, the understanding of individuals across the aisle or anywhere along the numerous political spectrums could come as a result of thoroughly understanding the issues through as unbiased and clear a lense as possible. I worry that the lenses of both major political parties are often anything but clear. Hence my concern if individuals simply jump between two very cloudy lenses, be they of whatever perspective they may.

      2. I think this is a valid point. We should emphasize education along with (or perhaps before) empathy. Empathy alone, without an accompanying conceptual framework for understanding how different perspectives relate to each other (and to other concepts), may be minimally productive. (And a broadened understanding may actually produce empathy.) So how do people go about finding that kind of comprehensive and objective information about political issues?

  2. This is wonderful. Such a relief to know that there is a way to find a middle ground and to now have a nervous break down over the obvious and often extreme negative bias that so many news casters especially have.

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