A PEW RESEARCH CENTER SURVEY conducted in early 2016 found that 62 percent of U.S. adults use social media as a news source, with most Reddit (70 percent), Facebook (66 percent), and Twitter users (59 percent) saying that they use their social media networks for news-gathering purposes. It’s not surprising. Social networks allow us to connect with friends and family members across the country, so it makes sense that they would offer the opportunity for current-events chitchat, especially in an age of dwindling newspaper subscriptions.
The problem with this stems from the very thing that makes social media convenient and addicting: tailored newsfeeds. Facebook — where “30 percent of the general population” get their news, according to Pew — shows you news stories based on your previous interactions. If you’ve liked, commented, or shared a lot of content about Kim Kardashian, she and her family are probably going to make a lot of appearances in your feed.
The same goes for websites. Liked a lot of articles from Vox? Get ready to see content from other Vox Media sites — such as The Verge, Curbed, and Eater — showing up among your friends’ posts, as well as links from similarly-positioned websites, including Mic and Vice.
Eventually, this can lead to the creation of an echo chamber. Earlier this year, The Wall Street Journal created “Blue Feed, Red Feed”: an interactive look at how hot-button issues appear on Facebook to members of different political ideologies. It’s an eye-opening look at the side of the social network you don’t get to see, except in those rare cases when you get some bleed-through from friends at the opposite end of the political spectrum, and it makes other people’s confusing conversation starters — “Have you seen where they’re saying that … ?” — make sense.
Surprisingly, using social media as a news source doesn’t make devoted followers out of Facebook users. Pew’s “analysis of comScore data found visitors who go to a news media website directly spend roughly three times as long as those who wind up there through search or Facebook, and they view roughly five times as many pages per month.”
That means social media-directed users probably aren’t reading deeply into most of the issues that Facebook’s algorithms think they care about. In fact, most people only read the headlines before sharing. And when every headline on your news feed is screaming some variation of the same thing, it’s easy to see a consensus where there is none.
Thankfully, it isn’t difficult to stop relying on social media for news. Here’s how to do it.
1. Determine whether or not you’ve created an echo chamber.
This is the hardest step, much akin to admitting that you have a problem, but it’s pretty easy to do. Take a quick scroll through your Facebook feed, with an eye out for a particular issue. Do all of the headlines you see regarding that issue appear to agree that it is good, bad, or scary? Do you think most of your Facebook friends would also agree? If so, you may have an echo chamber on your hands.
To dismantle the echo chamber, try switching to straight-news sources for a while. These are media outlets that don’t report the news with a spin, generally abide by the — now defunct — Fairness Doctrine, and don’t assume that readers have prior knowledge of an issue. The Associated Press, NPR, the BBC, and The Guardian are all wonderful places to start.
2. Gather your news sources.
If you’ve already done this while dismantling your echo chamber in the step above, don’t skip ahead just yet.
Before I realized that being a 24/7/365 politics junkie was a detriment to my well-being, I had a small bundle of reliable news sources that I checked like clockwork: Media Matters for America, Right Wing Watch, Think Progress, and Mother Jones. This was before smartphones became ubiquitous, so checking in on the news meant spending hours in front of my laptop, reading and scrolling.
If you like using smartphone apps instead of your browser, you can download offerings from your favorite news sites straight to your device. Put them all in one folder so that you don’t have to scroll for pages to find them.
Make it a point to spend a few minutes every day reading the news through these apps or websites. It doesn’t matter if you follow HuffPo on Facebook and have their app; if you’re checking the news on Facebook, you’re doing it wrong.
3. Talk to other people in real life.
Think you’ve destroyed your echo chamber? Make sure you monitor your news feed periodically, because it’s super easy to create a new one.
Ask your friends what news stories have caught their eye recently. Talk to your mom about what her Facebook friends have to say. Keep abreast of opinions across the aisle, and keep yourself informed.