New Tool Shows You Twitter Feeds of Users With Opposite Political Views

FlipFeed was designed by MIT researchers to get people out of their social media echo chambers and help them better understand ideologies and beliefs that differ from their own.

In the weeks following the 2016 presidential election, there has been much discussion about how liberals and conservatives are more disconnected than ever before.

One culprit of this disconnect appears to be rooted in social media. Facebook and Twitter feeds are biased toward people's own political leanings and reinforce ideologies people already possess.

A new tool developed by researchers at MIT aims to change that.

It's called FlipFeed and it's a chrome extension that flips your Twitter feed to that of another user who's been identified as either right- or left-leaning. The tool allows you see the tweets and headlines that someone with opposing political views sees everyday. You can repeat the process with other feeds or flip back to your own at any time.

Researchers in the Laboratory for Social Machines at the MIT Media Lab built the tool "to explore how social media platforms can be used to mitigate, rather than exacerbate, ideological polarization by helping people explore and empathize with different perspectives," the website explains.

The tool is pretty simple and easy to use. Once you download it and click the Chrome extension, a FlipFeed box appears to the left of your Twitter feed where you can choose between two options, either "Load another feed" or "Restore my feed."

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In a trial by this reporter, one flip revealed a right-wing feed that included tweets from Fox News, Breitbart and the GOP. Another flip displayed more left-leaning tweets from CNN, the Huffington Post and Ezra Klein.

The tool doesn't appear to show any tweets from accounts that have less than several thousand followers.

FlipFeed isn't the first tool like this to exist. The Wall Street Journal's Blue Feed, Red Feed tool shows users conservative and liberal Facebook posts on a specific topic like abortion, guns or Donald Trump, in a side-by-side view.

An Instagram tool once allowed you to see someone else's feed, but Instagram cut off the app's access to their application program interface (API) shortly after it launched.

It's unclear which Twitter API FlipFeed is using, but Twitter invested $10 million in MIT's Laboratory for Social Machines when it launched nearly two and a half years ago, a move that included full access to Twitter's "real-time, public stream of tweets, as well as the archive of every tweet dating back to the first." according to MIT News.

FlipFeed researchers are currently in the process of making some updates to their tool.

Martin Saveski, one of the lead researchers, told Seeker in an email, "We decided to add a few more features [which] we expect will make the tool much more interesting."

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