How To Avoid A Political Echo Chamber On Social Media

Among the many factors blamed for the results of the 2016 election is a little thing called the "social media echo chamber" — the circle of like-minded people with whom you surround yourself online. On one hand, it's human nature to want to hang out with people who share your interests and way of thinking; while odd-couple friendships obviously exist, a 45-year-old monster truck enthusiast may not have much to inclination to hang out with a 27-year-old struggling poet (although they also certainly could, so if that's you, more power to you). There's some truth to the old "birds of a feather flock together" adage.

In real life, we still encounter people unlike ourselves at parties, family functions, or pretty much any public space, even if we don't necessarily form deep relationships with them. Online, however, it can be an entirely different story. On many social media platforms, ignoring a viewpoint you dislike is as easy as unfollowing someone. Furthermore, algorithms point us toward areas of the internet based on previously expressed areas of interest, so we may be more likely to read political articles that reinforces existing ideologies — and less likely to come across anything that challenges them. The result can be the aforementioned echo chamber, where your feed consists almost exclusively of viewpoints that confirm your own.

Given that Facebook is the top news source among young adults, it's no wonder so many people were astonished when Donald Trump won the presidential election — if they were staunch Hillary or Bernie supporters, they may have never had a meaningful encounter with a Trump supporter. This segregation of viewpoints is an environment in which biases thrive.

So what are you supposed to do about it? Here are 19 little ways to avoid getting stuck in the social media echo chamber.

1. Start listening to relatively objective news podcasts. NPR may be a little more left-leaning than you'd think, but it's still a personal favorite.

2. Look to BBC as a source of news for American politics. According to the Pew Research Center, it's one of the most trusted news sources by Americans even though (or possibly because) it's British.

3. Avoid reflexively unfriending someone just because they posted a conservative article one time. (That being said, this isn't a hard-and-fast rule — some people are worth the unfriending for the sheer irritation factor.)

4. Take a peek at Fox News every once in a while, so you won't be surprised when you come across some far-right beliefs.

5. Pick your battles wisely. If you're the type to engage in a comment war, move the argument to a private message. Without other people jumping in, you might actually be able to have a debate without name-calling.

6. Adjust your Facebook priorities, so a variety of sources will show up first in your news feed. No source is truly objective, but you can at least get several viewpoints in there. To access this setting, choose "news feed preferences" from the drop-down menu in the right hand corner of the screen.

7. Look at your Facebook interests. Once you've cackled at all the bands and movies your teenage self loved, start looking for the kinds of pages that might be biasing your news feed. If you don't care to follow those pages anymore, go ahead and unlike them.

8. Remember that everyone's a human on the other side of the screen, even if they have entirely different ideologies than you.

9. Learn to spot fake news.

10. Avoid fake news accounts, especially when it comes to following links. Clicks are the currency of the Internet.

11. Identify a few friends of yours who are both reasonable and possessed of a different political ideology.

12. Check in on what that these friends post.

13. Avoid trolls, even when they bait you. They'll just make you mad.

14. Have some decency and don't troll other people. You'll just make them mad. Then everybody's mad and even less inclined to get along.

15. Take other people's arguments seriously. As Slate pointed out years ago, "If you don't engage people whose premises differ from yours, you'll never learn to persuade them."

16. Look for common ground before you unfollow someone. Few people actually subscribe to every belief laid out by their chosen political party.

17. Learn to recognize when partisan opinions are being presented as fact, no matter what source it's coming from.

18. Don't put stock in conspiracy theories on either end of the political spectrum. They're not hard to spot once you start looking.

19. Check out the Facebook friends you unfollowed a long time ago. (You can find a list in under "news feed preferences.") Seek out the people you're actually interested in, even though they don't think like you, and follow them again. Who knows? You might even rekindle your friendship.