A new browser extension could help make your Facebook feed feel a little less like an echo chamber for your own political beliefs.
The program, called EscapeYourBubble, claims to replace ads on the social network with hand-picked articles that illuminate a point of view you may not have considered (though in practice, the articles currently more often appear around the ads).
Users simply identify as either “Democrat” or a “Republican” when installing the plug-in, and potentially opposing viewpoints are served accordingly.
Because of the way its news algorithm matches posts to your views and interests, Facebook has an alarming tendency to silo its users into separate, ideology-driven realities where they’re seldom exposed to people with a disagreeing opinions.
Advertisements, which are specifically tailored to align with what Facebook perceives to be your likes, demographics and beliefs, only serve to exasperate this problem.
Much has been made of this feedback loop effect recently as one of the most fractious elections in recent memory made the divide feel more pronounced than ever.
But Krishna Kaliannan, a New York software developer and entrepreneur who created the extension in his free time, says he’s been interested in the online mechanisms behind political polarization for years — ever since reading the work of Eli Pariser, author of the book The Filter Bubble, in 2011.
He had been toying with the notion of writing a program like this one for months, but it took the shock of Donald Trump’s election victory to finally spurred him into action.
“Since then, I’ve become very curious to learn about the types of folks who voted for Donald Trump, and why his message resonated with those folks,” Kaliannan told Mashable.
The extension’s approach is about more than simply, say, spamming liberals with Fox News articles or conservatives with Huffington Post op-eds. People tend to instinctually tune out voices on the opposite side of the spectrum, Kaliannan said, so the key is hitting them with “surprising validators” — or viewpoints from trusted sources that are contrary to their own.
Using the extension as a “Democrat,” for instance, I saw an article from decidedly liberal British paper The Guardian questioning whether political correctness has run amok and a Washington Post story arguing that Trump’s climate plan might have some merits.
As a “Republican,” the extension pointed me towards a Fox News article calling on conservatives to stop vote-shaming Democrats and “65 Reasons Hillary Clinton is a Total Badass” from the Huffington Post.
Kaliannan, who leans left himself, said he has organized an “editorial board of sorts” made up of a diverse group of volunteers around the country who suggest articles to be featured.
“I wanted to make it so it’s not just reflective of what me, sitting here in Manhattan, thinks people should know,” he said.
The extension is still in a rudimentary stage, and there are a few obvious shortcomings in the user experience.
Oftentimes, the ads load directly below or above a sponsored post rather than in place of it. The service also only offers one article per page load — at least for the time being — in order to avoid spamming its users.
The technical details are no doubt complicated by Facebook’s ongoing war with ad blockers, in which the company has worked to obscure its promoted posts from developers in an attempt to thwart software that shuts them out.
Kaliannan said he’s working to improve the extension after receiving an unexpected wave of interest from hundreds of users in the days since the launch. He’d like to eventually expand it into a full-fledged ad blocker that would insert articles across the web.