How bad is my filter bubble problem? Please help me find out

January 5, 2017

     By Duncan Green     

In an idle moment over the Christmas break, I decided to run a twitter poll to assess the extent of filter-bubblemy filter bubble. For any of you who’ve been on a different planet for the last few months, that’s the social media phenomenon whereby you like/follow/read only those sources that broadly agree with you, creating an echo chamber that can lead to you mistakenly thinking that the public agrees with you. I realized how bad things were when I noticed that even the things I read that are furthest from my own general views, e.g. the Economist, were in the same Clinton/Remain camp as me.

So I used the handy new twitter polling tool to ask my twitter followers to say which combination of Trump/Clinton and Brexit/Remain they voted for or supported (where not eligible to vote). As I’d expected, the initial responses were heavily Clinton/Remain (94% after 150 votes), then fell back a bit as people retweeted and so more diverse networks came into play. Even so, after 24 hours and nearly 400 votes, it was still 90%. Final results were:

  • 3% Trump and Brexit
  • 2% Trump and Remain
  • 5% Clinton and Brexit
  • 90% Clinton and Remain
Lots of walls, not many bridges

Lots of walls, not many bridges

Charles Kenny sensibly pointed out that this was measuring the wrong people – the followers rather than the followed, which is where I get my information and ideas from. Anyone got an idea for how to assess the uniformity/diversity of the latter (other than some massive exercise in analysing all their tweets)?

But it was still an interesting exercise – gave me a sense of two big in/out networks with very few bridges between them. So I thought I’d run it as a poll on the blog (with other options acknowledged this time – apologies to the people in the US who voted for 3rd party candidates – forgot to offer that option on the twitter poll). Over to you.

[poll id=”46″]

What to do about it? I can’t see me avidly consuming the Daily Mail every morning, but does anyone know of a curated source of articulate, intelligent opinion from outside my bubble? If not, could someone please start one?!

Matt Collin weighed in on twitter with a few thoughts:

  • Start up dialogues with groups you never talk to (e.g. anti-aid, Brexitiers)….
  • Do talks in communities in ‘Little England’, connecting development issues to local ones
  • Pitch pieces for conservative newspapers/sites, even if rejection rate is v. high. Write about issues that build bridges between sides

All good ideas, but all difficult to do in practice – I generally wait to be invited to speak, and suspect I will have to wait a long time for an invitation from the anti-aid lobby, except as a human sacrifice (tried that, not fun). Hours in the day a problem on endlessly pitching to conservative media.

On the other hand, I don’t think I have the chutzpah (or, let’s be honest, the looks) to do what Arab-American tenor Karim Sulayman did shortly after the US election


Karim Sulayman – I trust you from Meredith Kaufman Younger on Vimeo.

Any other suggestions for effective, time efficient ways to break through the bubble?


January 5, 2017
Duncan Green