Avoiding the Echo Chamber

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Avoiding the Echo Chamber: a reader asks…

Hi Chris, I have a facebook account and use your recommended news aggregator, Flipboard to get my daily feed of current events and such. I also get the Washington Post and the New York Times in print, plus I have apps on my iPhone and read news stories there (more often than waiting for the print edition to hit my doorstep). One thing I’ve noticed is that as time has gone on, my facebook and news feeds are showing me stories I’m interested in (which is good), but fewer and fewer other news and information outside of my stated interests, but which I might want to see. I’m thinking I’ve fallen into an echo chamber and really want to get more wide-ranging stories and information. Is there something I should be doing to prevent the narrowing and over-tailoring of information coming to me?

This is a tough subject to tackle, because I believe in this sense technology is doing us a disservice. I too use news aggregation tools like Flipboard to get news, and social networking sites like Facebook to get other non-news (and quasi-news). You don’t mention television/video as news/information sources, but the same factor applies.

facebook-logoAs we’ve all moved to getting more of our information from electronic sources (moving away from print), technology has been there to assist us in bringing to the forefront our own personal interests. In most cases this starts with completing a profile that lists your interests by subject area, by person or by publication. All well and good there, but then the apps we use watch what we read or watch, and then adjust themselves (using some horribly complicated algorithms) so that they show us more of what we [appear to] like, and less of things we don’t like [or appear to].

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flipboard-logo-and-tagline-image-from-flipboarddotcomThis does tend to put us in an echo chamber, in so many ways. As a tech dweeb, I see a large number of tech-related news and information stories, while I imagine you are seeing a larger number of stories on whatever you are interested in. You show that by clicking on links, opening and reading stories, spending more time on certain stories (versus skimming through less-interesting stories), and other behavior that these apps are watching for. The apps then adjust their feeds to better match your interests.

I wish there was an easy reset button to erase all your previous clicks and reads from an app so that you can start fresh periodically, but the app developers have been slow to develop such. So my best advice to you is to avoid the like/unlike buttons when it comes to stories you read or watch, and try to look at many different things rather than just the top items that you’re shown by these apps.

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One thing I do suggest as a strategy is to look at the same story from multiple, different sources. Don’t just read the Wash. Post story on any current event and think you now know what it’s all about. Every single news source that exists has bias of some sort or another. So the only way you can get a fuller perspective is to read the same news story from widely different sources. One (current) example is the current US political climate. Any current event or news story you may see should be looked at from different sources. I mean that in more ways than just conservative and liberal, I also mean it in terms of domestic versus foreign (news reporting), and large news organization versus small news organization, and from different religious sources as well.

I find that after I’ve read the same story from a half-dozen different sources, I gain a much different perspective than if I’d just read the story from one source (no matter which one). I realize this takes a lot more time than just reading the story once, but in today’s fake news and biased reporting climate, I feel like neglecting this sharpens the divisiveness to which our society is trending. Just my .02.

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