It’s becoming increasingly clear that the internet isolates us into an echo chamber of agreement, rarely putting us in contact with ideas that might challenge us. In response to this, a team of Princeton students, including Sunny He, Vivian Mo, Jonathan Zong, and Zachary Liu, has created a Chrome extension called PolitEcho that quickly analyzes a person’s Facebook data and then spits out some color-coded charts showing just how far to the left or right it leans. This individual, for instance, is receiving a surplus of left-leaning media:
The browser extension works by assigning individual ratings to everyone in the user’s friends list. Those ratings, in turn, are based on which pages those people have liked in the past. Have they given the thumbs up to Barack Obama, NPR, and Huffington Post? Then they get moved to the left. Liking Rush Limbaugh, Rand Paul, and Fox News will move them to the right. The more a person posts to Facebook, the more room that person takes up on the chart. See that big blue dot in the upper left-hand corner in the chart below? That represents a social media addict who just will not stop posting links to articles from BuzzFeed and The Guardian.
Liu tells New York magazine that he and his team were inspired to create PolitEcho after the shock of the November 2016 election. Liu’s Facebook feed convinced him that Hillary Clinton would defeat Donald Trump. When that didn’t happen, he realized he’d been living in a bubble created by social media. Now, thanks to the browser extension, he has the data to back that up. Tempting as it may be, it’s just not practical to live in a political bubble, pretending the rest of the world doesn’t exist.