A Browser Extension That Shows You Your Filter Bubble

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Photo: by Jonathan Fife/Getty Images

If there’s anything to take away from the madness that is 2016, it’s that everybody lives in a bubble — the combination of where you live and the media you consume, crystallized, as these things are, in your Facebook feed. If you wish to know just how much of a bubble you’re in, there’s now a handy Chrome extension for that, PolitEcho.

It’s a sensible genesis story: Cruising into the election, Princeton computer-science student Zachary Liu thought that, judging by his news feed, Clinton would win in a landslide. But it turned out that the Orange Bubble was not indicative of the country. As is clearly evident in hindsight, you would have missed the widespread support for Trump if you didn’t have a right-leaning network, by the nature of the filter bubble. “Thus emerged the idea of PolitEcho, a visualization of our echo bubbles, a wakeup call to just how skewed our world view is,” he told Select All via Twitter direct message.

It’s super simple: Just hop into the Chrome store, click download, and it’ll pull in your Facebook data. After a couple minutes, you get a visualization of the political leanings of all your friends and their news feed, then another visualization of the people who show up the most in your feed, and the publications whose posts they share. The experience is both jarring and humbling.

What a bubble looks like.Photo: Courtesy of Zachary Liu

The bubbleness of a given feed is determined by a simple-enough algorithm: The team has a database of real news, fake news, and politicians’ Facebook pages, each with a political leaning score assigned to them: The New York Times is tagged liberal, Fox News conservative. Then friends get their leanings calculated based on the political pages they’ve liked.

Liu and his team first built PolitEcho at the Facebook Global Hackathon Finals in Menlo Park, California, clocking in under 20 hours. For now, all the data it collects is private, he says, but once the extension opens up to more than the founders’ friends, they might start tracking aggregate results.

To Vivian Mo, another Princeton undergrad on the team, the most exciting thing has been seeing just how blue her and her friends bubbles look. “Ironically, we think of ourselves as open-minded and diverse, only to find that we’ve surrounded ourselves with people who have the same political leanings,” she said.