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About Smash the Bubble

America is more divided now than it has been in at least the last several decades.[1] This divide has deepened significantly in the last 10 years. It has reached a point where politicians can't pass bipartisan bills nor reach compromise, leading to political gridlock.

What's worse, the divide and ensuing rancor isn't limited to politicians; the American people have tied themselves to an identity and enlisted themselves in one of the two warring tribes.

U.S. liberals and conservatives not only disagree on policy issues: they are also increasingly unwilling to live near each other, be friends, or get married to members of the other group. This rejection based on group membership is called affective polarization, meaning that our feelings (affect) are different towards members of our own group compared to outsiders.[2]
I believe a major contributor to this divide is the shift in the media landscape and how we consume news.

The Media

News media has always had a bias but we have come a long way from the era of the CBS Evening News with Walter Cronkite. In recent years, media outlets have become more partisan than ever. It is easier to appeal to a fundamentalist base if your goals is to get clicks or sell subscriptions. Indeed, no matter where you are on the ideological spectrum, Trump and the political divide have been great for the news business. The New York Times surpassed $1 billion in subscription revenue in 2017 and 2018 is proving to be equally strong.

News Consumption Patterns

At the same time, the way we consume news and political commentary has changed dramatically in the last 10 years. We now spend a significant amount of time on phones and social media, and consume most of our news online. A big part of this consumption is somewhat passive—we happen to encounter articles in our social network feeds or via Apple News or Google Assistant. Each of these channels puts us at greater risk of being trapped in an ideological bubble.

We tend to be friends with and follow like-minded people on social networks. This homogenizes the content we see in our feeds. We engage with the content that we agree with. And the algorithms keep feeding us what we engage with, no matter how asinine or mind-destroying it is.

Even when our news source is not a social network but a neutral aggregator like Apple News or Google Assistant, we don't fare any better. Aggregators offer personalization features where you can select the topics and news sources you would like to see. Once set, these rarely change.

Breaking out of our bubbles

To be fair, Facebook and Google recognize this problem and are trying to figure a way out. But there are no easy solutions. Citizens will need to be mindful about their susceptibility to be caught in these filter bubbles.

The idea for this website is very simple. It intermixes headlines from different media outlets -- both conservative and liberal. It does not color-code the news stories to indicate a left/right-leaning source, nor does it highlight the source because it would trigger your biases. If you make it a habit to get your news from a purposefully-mixed aggregator like this, chances are very high that you will get a glimpse of the reality that the other half of the country is living in.

Here is the list of media outlets whose feeds are used:

To suggest more sources to include, please email me or @ me on Twitter.