Product Development For The Social Echo Chamber

Wall Street Journal published an article that allowed you to experience a Facebook newsfeed from two perspectives — red or blue. They explain,

Facebook’s role in providing Americans with political news has never been stronger — or more controversial. Scholars worry that the social network can create “echo chambers,” where users see posts only from like-minded friends and media sources. Facebook encourages users to “keep an open mind” by seeking out posts that don’t appear in their feeds.

In one view, you’re able to experience what the reality of another might feel like, and how varied ‘truth’ and ‘fact’ really is.

Liberal Facebook and Conservative Facebook, Side by Side

Your curated social feed is both a gift and a curse — pulling from the depths of your Facebook friends, only content from the ones you engage with most. Typically speaking, these will be those with similar views to yours. In fact, nearly half of all U.S. adults say they get their news from Facebook.

In the years leading up to this election, and the days after — I have never felt more thankful for my network. Completely blue, liberal — struggling through dismay, fighting to spread love, refusing to accept that Donald J. Trump will be inaugurated our president in January 2017.

Would the results of this election have shocked us as much if we had visibility to the other side of Facebook — the rest of our friends, the rest of the social network itself?

We cannot go back, but we can consider what these social channels could do to reduce our echo chambers going forward.

Can we continue to use social technologies to encourage connection, rather than exaggerate division?

Outside of election season, it is touted a benefit that your social feeds are automatically curated to those you are closest to (or more likely, enjoy stalking). During election season, this special algorithm, the secret sauce every app and network touts, is the fault widening between the diverse groups of peoples that make up our nation.

This is where product development, a/b testing, and rapid implementations come in.

Oh, you don’t like what that human said? Hit that little ‘x’ at the top of that content box and you can pretend no one ever said it — ignore your republican aunt, high school mates and college peers — in your world, they are dissent. Our main methods of communication have negatively affected our ability to interact with those who hold different values and see different truths.

How can Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram (primarily), implement new features in order to address this new issue, one that arguably — is their social responsibility to address?

Problem: The curated newsfeed is an echo chamber, that doesn’t allow users to interact with other viewpoints.

This is not an issue of WHAT truth, WHICH truths, but instead HOW we can adjust platform capabilities so their treatment of them has a positive impact.

Solution: Diversify information visible in the curated feed in key seasons and when certain pieces of content are shared.

Now, I don’t have the ACTUAL solution. Product is shaped by the information a set of people have access to — and I don’t have access to Facebook/Twitter/Instagram social data.

We need to look at platform analytics, consumer surveys, market trends in order to begin a/b testing and rapidly implementing and optimizing ways we could correct for this.

Here are a few ideas, absent from any kind of data, only shaped experience, consumption, and observation:

1 Facebook, Duplicate Articles

  • Existing Interaction— If more then one friend posts a piece of content or article, it is grouped and duplicated, differentiated only by their caption associated with it.
  • New Interaction— Instead of grouping duplications, group differences. For every article someone posts, there is a small drop down menu that allows you to see the same headlines from different publications.

2 Facebook, Suggested Reading

  • Existing Interaction —Friends will post insights without citing the reference. You are left with your option to trust, or ignore — but with no ability to research yourself, on site, while you are actively interested.
  • New Interaction — Offer suggested articles under post that go into more detail. Use keywords and content rank to ensure the inclusion of a variety of verified outlets — professional media publications to social and online influencers.

This is the beauty of product development. Every new solution implemented might carry along another problem you need to solve, but solutions are never-ending. When you combine creativity, the curiosity to continue learning, and the drive to build a product that improves an individual’s quality of life, and potentially leaves the world a better place than it was before.

— Like our democracy, product development, in it’s purest form it is for the people, by the people. We just need to learn how to listen.

Michelle Obama — BAB / Qween / HBIC