Recently, there has been a fair amount of controversy over whether Facebook has been suppressing conservative stories in its much-clicked list of trending topics. But users of the nigh-inescapable social media site know that plenty of political commentary, ranging from anarchist to reactionary, winds up in the average user’s timeline before long no matter what the site’s internal algorithms may warrant. Want to know what a high school classmate thinks of abortion? She’ll definitely let the world know on her wall, without being asked. For some reason, relatives, neighbors, and half-forgotten acquaintances from the distant past are not shy about expressing their political affiliations to the world, especially during a bitterly contentious election year with several polarizing candidates in the running. Recently, the staff of The Wall Street Journal have been examining the role social media might be playing in politics, so they’ve created two contrasting Facebook feeds: a red one for conservative views and a blue one for liberal views. Theoretically drawing from the same set of facts, the two feeds differ wildly in their coverage of, for instance, Bernie Sanders.
Or Donald Trump:
Sixteen years after the Bush/Gore election brought the terms “red state” and “blue state” into the public consciousness, America remains a deeply divided country with seemingly insurmountable ideological differences. Or at least that’s the impression one gets from these opposing Facebook feeds. One side’s hero is the other side’s villain, and vice versa. The Wall Street Journal cites a concern that Facebook inadvertently helps create “echo chambers” of political opinion. Users only read the opinions of those with whom they already agree, so they never begin to consider the validity of the opposing argument. Opinions tend to calcify from there. For those who are suspicious of the publication’s motives and objectivity in creating this feature, The Wall Street Journal spells out its methodology here. The goal of the project is summarized rather simply: “We built this presentation because it’s hard to see these opposing views side by side.”