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Living in Our Political Bubbles.

politics

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Rochester

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Living in Our Political Bubbles.

12.4.16

In the aftermath of Trevor Noah’s interview with Tomi Lahren, many in my social media bubble felt the need to express how there are no longer constructive dialogues across party lines. Many attribute this to the effects of social media - which allow us to receive news and opinions from outlets with which we agree while ignoring opinions that we disagree with and may challenge our beliefs.

In fact, there is scientific evidence to prove this theory. Harvard researchers found Facebook users’ polarizations result in “largely closed, mostly non-interacting communities centered on
different narratives - i.e. echo chambers.” Many have feared that these bubbles may drive the hyper-partisan state America is currently experiencing.

Therefore, I set out to investigate. Since I am a Republican, the assumption I operated on was that my Facebook feed and social circles should also be conservative. Using the app PolitEcho, I was able to analyze how much of a bubble I am in. The app works in the following way: based on which news organizations your friends like, the application is able to provide an ideological score for the individual with a degree of certainty. Mine are shown below, with darker circles representing a more accurate certainty measurement.


What is surprising, but shouldn’t really be, is the polarization that the distribution of my friends show. Very few individuals are actual moderates and receive news from outlets that have different political leanings.

However, all Facebook friends are not created the same. Some post way too much and others maybe don’t post at all. As a way to predict how much of your feed is coming from the bubbles that your friends are in, the application then measures how likely an individual is to show up in your Facebook feed by sampling the feed, which are shown by the larger bubbles in the image below.
Finally, the algorithm computes two pie charts. The first is a representation of the estimated political leanings of your friends, while the second is a depiction of how politically polarizing your news feed actually is.

While there are a few areas I would recommend improvements, such as the app's classification of The Economist and The Onion as liberal news sources, it appears quite accurate with the information I know about my friends' political ideologies. Additionally, it appears to take a sample of your news feed, which can cause the proportions to slightly deviate if the algorithm is run multiple times. This leaves me with three possible conclusions to draw from the outcomes:

1) I am an abnormality.

One would expect my news feed to be dominated by conservative news sources, but it's not. While I follow conservative news outlets, many I know do not - which may be a unique feature of a College Republican.

2) Political bubbles may not be as strong as we think.

If my results came back with no confirmation of the existence of echo chambers, maybe our assumptions of political segregation are not as strong as we think they are. It's possible that the idea of echo chambers are overblown.

3) College Democrats are really the ones living in echo chambers.

It's also possible to draw the conclusion that Democrats on college campuses are the ones living in echo chambers. If my results, as a Republican, contain so many liberal news sources, then a Democrat's feed could wildly lean to the left.

At the end of the day, only you can control what you see in your feed. If you desire more diverse viewpoints, then it is up to you to like the news sources so that they appear in your feed.