The ubiquitous phrase “there’s an app for that” has reached the world of politics, and the apps are trying to break down the echo chambers.
A little while ago, Vocativ featured an article about apps to help people see political content from the “other side” – whichever that might be. Here at Practical Politicking, we are definitely on the side of at least listening to opposing views before summarily dismissing them, so these new programs were intriguing.
I took a look at each of the offerings from Vocativ’s article in turn, but only ended up actually using two. I’ll start with the other two first.
Read Across the Aisle is limited in available use to just an Apple app right now. Since my iPad is buried at the moment, I didn’t end up testing this one. However, I did sign up for inclusion in their Chrome beta-testing. As for what the app is supposed to do, it is theoretically going to point me toward news that is outside of my usual fare. Since my personal reading habits are already fairly well-balanced, I’m not sure how much of an effect that this will have for me. For people who haven’t been leaving Fox News for MSNBC (odd, but apparently true if one assumes that losses and gains for both were just shifting), perhaps there would be some suggestions that would be off the beaten path.
The next option is one that disturbed me at least a little – FlipFeed is the brainchild of some folks at MIT. This app allows you to see Twitter like someone else does. Personally, I saw that like cyber-stalking on steroids, but maybe some people would really benefit from seeing the social media site through the eyes of a polar-opposite person. I didn’t test it, primarily because I didn’t like the idea of someone else putting my own username in to see Twitter as I do. It’s a nice theory, but in practice? It’s just a little too creepy to consider.
PolitEcho is a Chrome extension that analyzes your Facebook data, and tells you where your political bubble lies on the continuum. Are you and your friends more red or blue? Give this one a few minutes of your time, and find out. Personally, my friends are more on the red end.
Finally, there’s Escape Your Bubble. This one doesn’t show up for me very much, but it is meant to place differing political views in your Facebook newsfeed. That’s a steep order, given how much Facebook itself seems to be toying with users newsfeeds already. Also, even though I installed it on Chrome and it shows up as an app on all of my computers, not all of them seem to show me content from it. (There is a way to make the posts it gives you very obvious.) It also touts the fact that they are trying to make this shift in reading as painless as possible, going toward the center first, then shifting toward the other side. Again, I might not be the best test subject because my personal page “likes” don’t necessarily match politically with my right-leaning friends.
Try one or more of these. If you’re more daring than I was, see Twitter like someone else does – just please don’t use it to be a troll, or creepy. That’s just wrong. There’s nothing wrong with at least hearing out what people who disagree with you have to say. Listening does not equal agreement or endorsement – it just means you’re willing to step away from the crowd long enough to show a little humanity and empathy.