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

by Penn Collins

December 5, 2016

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