Blue Feed, Red Feed
Organisation: The Wall Street Journal (United States)
Publication Date: 12/02/2016
Size of team/newsroom:large
DescriptionWe built a unique lens to see how current news stories were being discussed on Liberal and Conservative Facebook, using data from a peer-reviewed study conducted by Facebook that tracked link sharing by 10.1 million users who declared their political affiliation. By juxtaposing the “blue” feed—sources favored by a majority of the Facebook study’s most liberal users—and the “red” feed—sources favored by the most conservative users—we illustrated a dramatic contrast in how U.S. presidential candidates were covered, and also how even seemingly non-political stories were infused with partisan perspectives. We added new keyword filters on a regular basis, offering readers a chance to see how “the other side” was reacting to current hot topics. This unique side-by-side view does not exist anywhere on Facebook’s platform, and the average user cannot customize for this—either by “liking” sites of opposing political orientation, or by searching for such opposing viewpoints using keywords. This tool provides a valuable public service by shining a light on the “filter bubble” or “echo chamber” phenomenon created by hyper-personalized information systems, which has major implications for news media consumption. The project struck a chord with our readers and the media, being both heavily shared on social networks and discussed in political and media circles. The goal is to maintain it as a tool throughout the election season and beyond.
What makes this project innovative? What was its impact?We used Facebook's own data from its study, and its own tools – the Facebook API – to illustrate a powerful illustration of how two realities exist for partisan Facebook users – where many users get their news from exclusively. Over the course of this year's election, readers were shocked and fascinated by getting a look at what "the other side" was seeing. The project has been used as a teaching tool in classrooms to discuss media literacy and political polarization. Readers outside the U.S. have enquired about having one for their own countries, as the issue of political polarization, and echo chambers manifests itself in many democratic societies. Criticism of Facebook's role in delivering news, and calls for them to behave more like a real media company have been growing louder, and Facebook's leadership has pushed back significantly. Recent analyses of the role of fake news in this election are raising alarm and putting more pressure on Facebook to make changes, and perhaps add tools like "Blue Feed, Red Feed" to counter the effects if the filter bubble phenomenon.
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