Social media didn't create the problem of the filter bubble—even before Facebook, people often tended to get their news either from left- or right-leaning sources and surround themselves with friends who had similar political views. But if algorithms made the echo chamber worse, they might also be able to begin to help.
A new app called Read Across the Aisle, in development now, is designed to track your political leaning, based on the news sources you read most often. Then it periodically nudges you to read something with the opposite bias.
"Sort of like a Fitbit will remind you that you've been sitting on the couch for too long, and hey, you should get up and walk around, this is a tool that will have a reminder that you've been reading mostly on one side," says Nick Lum, founder of BeeLine Reader, the startup that made the app. "Remember how you wanted to find other perspectives, and see what's going on in other bubbles? Go try that now."
The team is using some existing analyses of the political leanings of news sources, such as a continuum from Pew. It's also crowdsourcing opinions from readers, particularly for versions of the app outside the United States.
As the app suggests different sources, it tries to gently ease readers into new perspectives. "We've gone out specifically with the goal of finding sources that will be palatable to people who are on the other side," says Lum. Readers on the left, for example, might be nudged to read David Brooks.
"People on the left will say it's in The New York Times, how bad can it be, so to speak," he says. "And they will be more open to reading it than if it was some far-right news source that they would more more likely dismiss out of hand."
The app also asks readers to share stories they've read on Facebook, helping break their friends out of their own filter bubbles and better understand the people they disagree with.
Lum, who previously designed a browser extension to help read news faster, was inspired to create Read Across the Aisle in the wake of the election, as he watched friends post on Facebook about wanting to better understand those who voted differently.
Others have attempted some related projects, such as Escape Your Bubble, an extension that inserts positive stories from the "other side" into your Facebook feed. Hi From the Other Side and Pen Plus Pals' Red Plus Blue project are trying to bring people with opposing viewpoints together offline.
In his farewell speech, President Obama spent nearly a minute talking about the problem of the filter bubble. "It speaks to how important this issue is in order for us to be able to address the substantive issues that we're facing," says Lum.
Read Across The Aisle is crowdfunding on Kickstarter, and an iOS version will launch in February.