The role social media played in the November election remains widely discussed, but since Donald Trump was elected to office, things have been slowly changing. This week, Facebook added alternate news sources to the Trending results page, so users will be directed to multiple publications covering the story rather than a single outlet. Even if you never click on the other sources, it's a reminder that different view points exist, and minor changes in the way an article is framed can make a huge difference in how it's perceived.
On Wednesday, Facebook announced a redesign of the Trending page on the iOS app. Until now, clicking on a topic led you to a list of related posts and stories, along with what people you follow were saying about it. The updated page, though, presents a "carousel" of links to other publications covering the same story. A blog post regarding the update explains that there's no pre-approved list of news sources; the stories are chosen based on a number of factors, including engagement on Facebook as well as the overall popularity of the publisher.
The post doesn't explicitly mention the echo chamber, but Facebook writes that the idea is to make it "easier to see what other news outlets are saying about each topic." Even if you don't agree with the headlines, at least you'll see that they exist.
In the same post, Facebook added that it will begin testing a way to make news easier to find on the mobile app. The feature will present three Trending stories at the top of your News Feed, and you can click to see more topics. However, most people won't see the option while it's in the testing phase.
As for the echo chamber, you'd be hard-pressed to find someone who hasn't heard the phrase by now. Even before the election, much was said about the way people seek out information reaffirming their own point of view. In 2011, activist Eli Parisner wrote a book warning that in the age of social media, personalized streams of news can become a "filter bubble," sifting out the sources that challenge our way of thinking.
Five years later, many claim the bubble's effect can be seen in the polarization of American politics. Thanks to the algorithms curating our news feeds, it becomes all too easy to ignore opposing publications. Furthermore, if you disagree with an acquaintance's political rants, silencing them is as simple as hitting the "unfollow" button. In these circumstances, social media does little to bridge the divide between political ideologies.
Fortunately, that's where Facebook's updates come in. Hopefully, providing a variety of sources will help mitigate the filter bubble's effects. Either way, we'll quickly find out. The update has already rolled out to iPhone, and it should be available on desktop and Android soon.