How can technology help us combat political extremism?
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In the aftermath of the 2016 election, there was a surge of conversation about technology's role in political and ideological polarization. Social networks like Facebook and Twitter fed people hateful and inflammatory content in an effort to maximize for engagement. The result was that many users consumed great deals of conspiracy-laden and often fake new reports. Users became trapped in ideological "bubbles" - secure in their own opinions and completely ignorant to what people on the "other side" were seeing.
My team saw a lot of students and tech workers try to solve this issue of polarization by creating what they called "fake news detectors." These ranged from keyword detectors to sophisticated machine learning algorithms - all with the purpose of "catching" the fake news and either deleting it from the page or otherwise alerting the users.
The problem with this approach is that, with the exception of direct implementation by Facebook itself, users would have to choose to download or install one of these programs. Those who are most susceptible to "fake news" are unlikely to willingly limit their own access to it.
Our team decided to take a different approach. Instead of blocking or flagging content, we simply juxtapose articles from the "other side." Our hope is that regular exposure to the opposing viewpoint will help break down bubbles and ensure that users don't get caught in cycles of hatred.
The Google Chrome extension
The Two-Sided Chrome extension allows readers of an article to quickly find an article from the "other side" about the same topic. Here are some examples of it in action: