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A New Browser Extension Shows Us Just How Biased Our Facebook Feeds Are

This was, of course, created in response to November’s election results.

With the shocking results of the 2016 elections just a month behind us, it’s clear that the notion of the “social media” and internet “echo chambers” have very real consequences in terms of how people of all leanings view the world. Technology easily affords us the ability to exclude those whose opinions we deem wrong or objectionable, instead living online in the comfort of like-minded people.

Not only does it skew our perception of what the landscapes of the world look like, but it may also color our opinions further.


So to determine just how skewed our Facebook feeds are, a team of Princeton Students including Sunny He, Vivian Mo, Jonathan Zong, and Zachary Liu have created PolitEcho, a Chrome browser extension that analyzes your Facebook data, then produces a quantifiable result as to whether your social media environment is disproportionately red or blue.

It does so by comparing the political makeup of your friends (again, as determined by data analysis) to the amount of left- and right-leaning content in your actual Newsfeed, as shown below:

PolitEcho

Unsurprisingly, it was the 2016 election that inspired Zachary Liu to create the extension. He, like so many others, was convinced that Hilary Clinton would win the election because of the overwhelming pro-Hilary sentiment he witnessed on Facebook. When the results came in, he realized that he’d fallen victim to the echo chamber.

The plug-in also features a scatter plot that shows the spectrum of your friends’ political leanings and activity on the X-axis and the frequency of their posts on the Y-axis.

PolitEcho

The bigger the circle (and the higher on the chart it resides), the more active any one user is. And the further left the circle is, well...the further left the person is. So that one giant outlier in the top right is they type of guy that probably owns more than one type of shirt with Che Guevera on it. Or possibly Hillary Clinton herself.

At the very least, it’s a novel look at the composition of your Facebook friends, but it could (and should) serve as an eye-opening analysis of how slanted your social media experiences are. Taking that a step further, you can examine whether or not this bias is surmountable or whether it, consciously or subconsciously, changes the way you think.

It’s hard to examine this and contend that the “bubble” of social media isn’t a real, powerful phenomenon.

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The problem with American Sign Language (ASL) is that over 500,000 people in the U.S. use it, but the country has over 330 million people.

So for those with hearing loss, the chances of coming into contact with someone who uses the language are rare. Especially outside of the deaf community.

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Looking back, the year 1995 seems like such an innocent time. America was in the midst of its longest streak of peace and prosperity. September 11, 2001 was six years away, and the internet didn't seem like much more than a passing fad.

Twenty-four years ago, 18 million U.S. homes had modem-equipped computers, 7 million more than the year before. Most logged in through America Online where they got their email or communicated with random strangers in chat rooms.

According to a Pew Research study that year, only 32% of those who go online say they would miss it "a lot" if no longer available.

Imagine what those poll numbers would look like if the question was asked today.

RELATED: Bill and Melinda Gates had a surprising answer when asked about a 70 percent tax on the wealthiest Americans

"Few see online activities as essential to them, and no single online feature, with the exception of E-Mail, is used with any regularity," the Pew article said. "Consumers have yet to begin purchasing goods and services online, and there is little indication that online news features are changing traditional news consumption patterns."

"Late Night" host David Letterman had Microsoft founder and, at that time the richest man in the world, on his show for an interview in '95 to discuss the "the big new thing."

During the interview Letterman chided Gates about the usefulness of the new technology, comparing it to radio and tape recorders.

Gates seems excited by the internet because it will soon allow people to listen to a baseball game on their computer. To which Letterman smugly replies, "Does radio ring a bell?" to laughter from the crowd.

But Gates presses Letterman saying that the new technology allows you to listen to the game "whenever you want," to which Letterman responds, "Do tape recorders ring a bell?"

Gates then tells Letterman he can keep up with the latest in his favorite hobbies such as cigar smoking or race cars through the internet. Letterman shuts him down saying that he reads about his interests in magazines.

RELATED: Bill Gates has five books he thinks you should read this summer.

The discussion ends with the two laughing over meeting like-minded people in "troubled loner chat room on the internet."

The clip brings to mind a 1994 segment on "The Today Show" where host Bryant Gumbel and Katie Couric have a similar discussion.

"What is internet anyway?" an exasperated Gumball asks. "What do you write to it like mail?"

"It's a computer billboard but it's nationwide and it's several universities all joined together and it's getting bigger and bigger all the time," a producer explains from off-stage.





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Photo by Li-An Lim on Unsplash

The future generations will have to live on this Earth for years to come, and, not surprisingly, they're very concerned about the fate of our planet. We've seen a rise in youth activists, such as Greta Thunberg, who are raising awareness for climate change. A recent survey indicates that those efforts are working, as more and more Americans (especially young Americans) feel concerned about climate change.

A new CBS News poll found that 70% of Americans between 18 and 29 feel climate change is a crisis or a serious problem, while 58% of Americans over the age of 65 share those beliefs. Additionally, younger generations are more likely to feel like it's their personal responsibility to address climate change, as well as think that transitioning to 100% renewable energy is viable. Overall, 25% of Americans feel that climate change is a "crisis," and 35% feel it is a "serious problem." 10% of Americans said they think climate change is a minor problem, and 16% of Americans feel it is not a problem that worries them.

The poll found that concern for the environment isn't a partisan issue – or at least when it comes to younger generations. Two-thirds of Republicans under the age of 45 feel that addressing climate change is their duty, sentiments shared by only 38% of Republicans over the age of 45.

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