The phenomena of the filter bubble has been a big topic in 2016. Those shocked by the outcome of the Brexit vote and the American election realised that there is a distinct lack of diversity coming from their news channels. Could you name anyone from your social circle who voted for the opposing point of view? You weren’t the only one!
There are problems from the other side too. The information on offer? Fake, intolerant and racist. However, changing other people’s behaviour is something that you have very little control over. But what you can do as a New Year’s Resolution for 2017 is to make sure that the opinions you encounter are as diverse as possible, so that you have a more thorough understanding of how the world is working. Here are some ideas of how to beat the filter bubble – and get out of the echo chamber…
The filter bubble is ultimately something that happens online. Algorithms are able to determine the type of articles you like and engage with, so they offer you similar articles. By volunteering you expose yourself to viewpoints and people who sit outside this filter bubble.
Volunteering can be difficult to fit into your schedule, but there are some things you can do which don’t require a regular commitment. Free Cakes for Kids encourages you to bake cakes for children who would not otherwise get one. Old people’s homes regularly put on events or encourage visitors. Running clubs like Good Gym help you speak to people from a variety of different backgrounds, and if you live somewhere like London, there are many different opportunities to choose from.
Read offline – not just online
Try to discover new information sources offline as well as online. Visit second hand book stores and get their recommendations for new books. Go to a coffee shop on Saturday mornings, leave your phone at home and buy a paper or a magazine that you wouldn’t normally read. Join a book club that aims to read books that haven’t been nominated for awards.
Quite often this type of activity demands that you view your time differently. Instead of trying to read the best and most rewarding fiction and non-fiction, you are trying to read a diverse range of titles. So your aim cannot be to maximise the value you get from your time – instead it is to try and have a wide range of opinions and experiences. Some you won’t enjoy, and some won’t be particularly articulate, but you are opening yourself up to new ideas. In many ways it’s similar to going travelling for a couple of months.
Sign up for mailing lists for the opposing political parties
One of the reasons why getting out of a filter bubble is so hard is because it is difficult to know where to begin. However, the first steps are there for everyone to take. If you sign up to a mailing list for a different newspaper or political party then you’ll learn about different points of view. More specifically you’ll understand what the readers think is most important because of the focus of the articles and material. From there, you’ll be able to expand your research further.
Many people believe that it’s the lack of information which is the issue when it comes to filter bubbles, but that’s not the case. It’s your ability to access that information – and we should re-teach ourselves how to do this, like we taught ourselves how to use a library in the 90s and Google in the 00s. Perhaps we need to create a new system in the 10s.
Notice when everyone has the same opinion as you
Whenever you are in a room or on social media and everyone has more or a less the same views, then note that you are probably in a filter bubble. Sometimes these filter bubbles are beneficial – like if you are in a university seminar room or in a business meeting. It’s helpful to be around people who have similar viewpoints so you can work together!
However, if you’re at the pub or in a bar, or you’re watching your social media feed, then simply recognise that there may be other opinions out there that are not contributing to the discussion. Again, simple awareness that these bubbles exist, and understand what issues may sit inside them is incredibly helpful in lifting yourself out of that echo-chamber.
Sign up to The Echo Chamber Club
Finally, sign up to The Echo Chamber Club. As a disclaimer, it is a weekly newsletter that I run, but we go out of our way to monitor where a ‘liberal and progressive’ echo-chamber lies and then curate articles that show you a different point of view. Previous newsletters have included the Russian perspective on the Syrian War, an argument in favour of safe spaces, and a new way of understanding inflation in a global world.
Alice Thwaite is founder and editor-in-chief of The Echo Chamber Club – a weekly newsletter that distributes different points of view to the liberal / progressive norm. The ECC has just released a podcast in which we interview key thinkers; philosophers, journalists, economists and politicians about their values. The idea is that we can then strengthen what it means to have centrist political views.