The year of the echo-chamber escapists

“Breaking down our filter bubbles and echo-chambers will not be solved by the actions of one, rather it needs to be tackled in a cross-functional effort by all parties involved: news organizations, social media platforms, and, most importantly, our readers.”

As a society, we follow people on Facebook and Twitter who share similar values to our own, and as our digital worlds become more filtered and personalized, our perspectives become impenetrable echo chambers and inflexible to new ideas.

In 2018, we will see a shift towards trying to break down those filter bubbles and better understand areas outside of our own biases and interests.

One version of this could be reading an array of news sources, encouraging readers to explore topics outside of their normal interest, or having social platforms alter their algorithms to expose users to content that doesn’t fit to what they are used to seeing. What if there was a way we could encourage organizations and readers to be more well-rounded in their news habits and challenge their typical media behaviors?

Ultimately, this accountability for changing the cycle of echo chambers is a fragmented mix of readers, media organizations, and social media platforms. Along with news organizations, Facebook, Twitter, and other forms of social media must come to terms with how they impact the polarization of society on many levels. At the crux of this issue, the reader must understand the role that they play in creating their own echo chamber.

Diversifying a news diet

What if we thought about news and media the same way we think about nutrition? What would be considered a healthy news diet? What would be the ideal news behaviors and habits for a well-rounded reader? I can see a future space in media, where our predictions as an organization are tied to showing a diverse array of opinions and user-generated content on an issue and we build this type of logic into the core of the product. Media platforms like Facebook could flag certain articles as being opinion content versus fact, so readers would be aware that they are reading something with a bias. Platforms could also share user reading patterns or behaviors with the users themselves. Users could then keep track of how many articles they read on a certain topic or perspective and have a better sense of it reflected the population as a whole or just their immediate echo chamber.

Breaking down echo chambers: Whose responsibility is it?

Is it up to publications to decide? Or is this responsibility on journalists and readers? Our last public editor, Liz Spayd, wrote that The New York Times “has proclaimed a public commitment to reflecting a broader range of perspectives in its pages,” citing “the general principle of busting up the mostly liberal echo chamber around here.” We have also created a part of the organization called The Reader Center which aims to capitalize on hearing from our diverse array of readers and their opinions by gathering feedback and using more user-generated content. These are steps towards moving away from a polarization in an organizational sense, though there is certainly more we can do to help readers from operating within echo chambers.

Overall, though, the responsibility is split. All actors involved must play a part in dismantling the frameworks and bubbles that we have played a part in creating. In 2018, breaking down our filter bubbles and echo-chambers will not be solved by the actions of one, rather it needs to be tackled in a cross-functional effort by all parties involved: news organizations, social media platforms, and, most importantly, our readers.

Hannah Cassius is a product manager at The New York Times.

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