From Facebook to Flipboard: how to avoid the information bubble and other dangers of custom news
(03-22-2018, updated 07-08-2018) Nowadays, most of us have a custom news feed. We live in an information bubble. Many of us live in a fake news bubble. It’s downright dangerous when Cambridge Analytica steers folks into a fake news coccoon.
Fake News Coccoon
Facebook has so much information on you, from all the little quizzes you take and from all the things you read and share and “like”, that when a company like Cambridge Analytica gets its hands on that info, they know your political and social views and they can exploit that. They can start to send you to fake news sites that push your buttons, and gradually steer you into such a fake news cocoon that you are completely isolated from reality. Which is apparently exactly what they did. They got info from Facebook about some 50m people and they used it to manipulate voters in the 2016 presidential election. It’s not clear to what degree Cambridge Analytica influenced voters, but if ever the saying was apt, it’s now, that just because you’re paranoid, it doesn’t mean they’re not out to manipulate you.
That many folks already live in such an alternate reality is clear; take that guy who traveled from North Carolina to a pizza parlor in Washington, DC, armed with an AR-15, a handgun and a knife, to liberate the poor children who were held captive in the cellar for Hillary Clinton’s personal pedofilic pleasures. Of course there was no child sex abuse going on there, let alone by Hillary Clinton. But this guy was on a mission. He walked in, shot a few rounds in the ceiling and proceeded to look for the non-existent cellar while diners fled the scene.
From Facebook to Flipboard
So, how to avoid the information bubble? Personally, I do get some of my news from Facebook. I follow several pages, like Shaun King and Moms Demand Action For Gun Sense in America, and of course the memes can be fun. However, I get most of my information from Flipboard. I just don’t like how Facebook is always limiting my feeds — from friends as well as news sources — without asking me if I even want that. They do it so sneakily and there is so much that immediately replaces what goes that it takes me a while to realize that I’m not seeing certain feeds anymore. I suppose that’s how Cambridge Analytica was able to gradually insert itself into people’s Facebook feeds.
With Flipboard I can curate the Internet news content I want to receive, as well as create my own magazines on different topics to share with others. I haven’t created any of my own custom magazines so far, but I can see how teachers could use it to put together reading material for classes, researchers could use it to file articles they want to keep for later, etc.
So I use Flipboard as a collection of free magazine subscriptions. Well, a collection of free newspaper subscriptions, really, because I read them daily. When I created my account I let it know which topics I’m interested in and it began to provide me with articles, news clips, blog posts and podcasts from all over the Internet, all on one little app. (I use it only on my phone;. I find it’s kind of clunky on my computer, but maybe that’s just me.) The point is: you have more control over your custom news. Not only can I customize the topics I want to stay informed about, but I can customize my news sources. So I can make sure I get news from a wide variety of sources if I want, and thus avoid the information bubble.
In the beginning I also got items I wasn’t interested in. For instance, I’m interested in US news, but not in US sports news. I can let them know when I don’t like an article and why not, so over time I’ve fine-tuned it. I’ve been using it for at least a year now, and it’s pretty well tailored to my wishes. I now get my custom news about the topics I’m interested.
I have different magazines, or newsfeeds: World News, US News, US Politics, Rights and Freedoms, Science, Movies, Environment, and Arts. Sometimes I will remember that I also have an Arts magazine, and I’ll flip through the headlines and open and read something here and there, but most of the time I don’t get much beyond the news and politics. And Flipboard helps there, too, creating For You, a magazine with content based on articles I’ve opened lately.
If I had had to say off the top of my head yesterday which sources I get most of my information from on Flipboard, I probably would have said The Guardian, The New York Times, The Washington Post and some of the press agencies like Reuters and Associated Press. I wanted to be more precise than that, so I took the For You feed from roughly eight hours yesterday and made an inventory of the sources. Since my For You feed is based on articles I actually open and read, that’s the most honest indication.
My News Sources Over 8 Hours
It’s a rough estimate, because the feed changes all the time and the articles don’t show up strictly chronologically, which I don’t understand. It’s the only annoying aspect of Flipboard. So I flipped back to where most of the posts started to be from nine hours ago and more and stopped there. (Right around an article with a photo of Ivanka Trump sciencing.) I also tallied how many articles appeared from each of the sources within those eight hours. Here’s what I found:
- One to five articles each from ABC News, advocate.com, AlJazeera, Birminghammail.co.uk, Bloomberg, Boingboing.net, Bustle, Buzzfeed, cbsnews.com, cfr.org, Chicago Tribune, CNN Money, Complex, crooksandliars.com, Daily Dot, dailywire.com, dailykos.com, dallas.news.com, Decider, earther.com, Entertainment Weekly, euronews, Forbes, Fortune, forward.com, France 24, Gizmodo, Glamour, globalnews.ca, GQ, haaretz.com, HollywoodLife, HuffPost, IncMagazine, Inhabitat, Inverse, Irishtimes.com, Jezebel, Jpost.com, Katu.com, Los Angeles Times, MarketWatch, Mashable, mediaite.com, mediamatters.com, mentalfloss.com, Metro.co.uk, National Review, news.un.org, newsbusters.org, newsmax.com, opednews.com, 0ptimistdaily.com, Page Six, Patch, patheos.com, pbs.org, politicalwire.com, politico.eu, politicususa.com, prospect.org, Quartz, rawstory.com, reason.com, recode, Roll Call, Rolling Stone, Salon, ScienceAlert, sciencemag.org, sierraclub.org, splinternews.com, The Atlantic, The Conversation UK, The Daily Beast, The Globe and Mail, The Inquisitr, The Motley Fool, The New Yorker Magazine, The Root, The Wall Street Journal, The Weekly Standard, thecut.com, theweek.com, TheWrap, ThinkProgress, TIME, TNW, TODAY, townhall.com, truthdig.com, truth-out.com, U.S. Politics, UPROXX, Vancouversun .com, and VICE.
- Six to ten articles each from Axios, Business Insider, DW News, Mashable, NBC News, NPR, POLITICO, Reuters, The Guardian, The New York Times, Vanity Fair, and Vox.
- And 12 articles from USA Today, 14 from CNN, 16 from The Washington Post, and 22 from Associated Press.
That’s 114 sources!
Two or three only give me a few lines before I hit a paywall, like The Wall Street Journal and Forbes, but the rest give me the whole shebang. If I looked at about eight hours worth of feeds today, I would get a lot of the same sources and many others. I get news from sources that are pretty well aligned with my world view, like The Guardian, as well as articles from super-conservative sites like townhall.com. I also get articles on US and world news and politics from media that I would not normally look to for those topics, like Glamour and HollywoodLife. Many media get articles from press agencies like Reuters and AP. In those cases I only get them from the press agencies; I don’t get the same article repeatedly from different sources. I don’t read everything, of course, but even reading the headlines alone of some two- to three hundred articles from such varied sources throughout the day keeps me reasonably on top of things, and I definitely avoid the information bubble that Facebook tends to create, or companies like Cambridge Analytica would want to create.
I do have my limits. I don’t want anything from Breitbart, Alex Jones’s Info-Wars or from Fox “News”. Anything I need to know about them will show up in feeds from other sources, anyway. After all, it’s big news when a Fox “News” anchor reports facts.
(This post was first published on the blog Resident Alien: Being Dutch in America, under the title: “From Facebook to Flipboard: How I Avoid the Information Bubble”, 03-22-2018)
- Header image: common.wikipedia.org