A new Facebook experiment “pops” your ideological bubble

Pop those bubbles, America.
Pop those bubbles, America.
Image: AP Photo/Michael Dwyer
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In a divisive political age, research has shown that many Americans are blinded by their “red” and “blue” social media bubbles—leaving them unable to understand or relate to those they disagree with. There may be a fix for that.

A new digital tool disrupts homogeneous news feeds by connecting US Facebook users to people outside their filter bubbles. ”Pop Your Bubble” was released today, and is funded by The KIND Foundation, the non-profit arm of the granola bar company, which works to foster kinder and more empathetic communities.

The app was motivated by research showing that, while over 60% of Americans get news from social media, only 5% of US adults see social media posts that greatly differ from their perspectives. That’s according to a new poll conducted by Morning Consult (on behalf of the KIND Foundation).

KIND’s tool, accessible here, seeks to boost that statistic. It prompts you to “follow” Facebook users who have been identified by an algorithm as your demographic opposite. The algorithm accounts for geographic location (urban vs. rural), age, hometown, and previously liked and shared content (the attributes are ranked in that order). It also balances results to ensure a gender mix. “Our tool intentionally matches people on a basis broader than politics, to better account for the whole of who they are,” says Elle Lanning, an advisor to The KIND Foundation.

Importantly, “following” is a one-way relationship: When you follow a match, you can see their public posts on your News Feed, but they can’t see yours (unless they follow you back). Following a person doesn’t make you Facebook “friends.” KIND hopes the app facilitates dialogue, but doesn’t push users to “like,” or comment on their matches’ posts.

Once you’ve followed ten new people via the app, you can choose to add your profile, allowing others to follow you. Your profile will not appear in the app unless you’ve opted into the experiment, which hundreds already have.

Unlike Facebook’s effort to police users who post fake news, “Pop Your Bubble” bets on humanity’s better side—our drive to understand, rather than vilify, the “opposition.” This mission aligns naturally with KIND’s values, according to Daniel Lubetzky, the company’s founder and CEO.

Lubetzky, who describes himself as the son of a holocaust survivor and a father of four, says he cannot shake the immense division and alienation that’s become increasingly evident since the 2016 US election. Lubetzky says that private corporations have a moral responsibility to tackle major issues, from climate change to drug threats to political divides, as government can’t do it alone.

The “Pop Your Bubble” app is the KIND Foundation’s first digital community-building venture. “We need to understand the other side to impact the other side,” says Lubetzky, “We become much more effective as humans and leaders when we engage in hearty conversations with those who are different from us, not necessarily to change our opinions, but to build the empathy muscle.”

Following different people on Facebook, of course, will not eliminate filter bubbles or resolve deep-rooted biases. But it’s a first step—a playful way to embrace the discomfort of the unfamiliar.

“We’ve approached the project with a lot of humility, and we have no idea what results will be,” says Lubetzky. “But what would happen if your feed helped you at least think about opinions you disagree with, instead of just reinforcing your beliefs? We think that’s a healthy question to ask.”