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All opinions are equal in BuzzFeed's new comment system

Outside Your Bubble tries to teach readers about how different people think.
Derrick Rossignol, @drossignol10
February 17, 2017
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President Donald Trump's election win was shocking to many, which seems to say that Americans understand each other less than ever. Part of this disconnect may be a lack of exposure to opposing viewpoints. That's what Buzzfeed seems to think, and it's addressing this problem with something called Outside Your Bubble.

The new feature works like a curated comments section and will be implemented in the site's most popular news posts (like this one). An area below the story presents a summary of varying reactions from users on Twitter, Facebook, Reddit and other platforms. Clicking one of these summaries leads directly to a relevant post so readers can see first-hand what different people are saying.

BuzzFeed Editor-in-Chief Ben Smith wrote that the goal is to give readers "a sense of the context in which news lives now," which he believes they may not otherwise get due to their social media tendencies.

"We're all living in filter bubbles, on social media in particular," Smith told Bloomberg. "Anybody who works in news has spent the last year watching how social media affects people's views of the world and can close you off to dissenting views."

A Wall Street Journal project called "Blue Feed, Red Feed" backs up Smith's claim by emulating the "echo chambers" liberal and conservative Facebook users create for themselves online. The tool divides news sources into "red" and "blue" political feeds based on data from a 2015 study of Facebook user habits. Browsing posts about Trump shows the conservative publications discuss the POTUS with a positive tone. As you'd expect, the liberal outlets take an opposite stance and are more critical.

The timing of this new feature is interesting, given BuzzFeed's recent history. The site made news in January for publishing unverified information about Trump's potential connections with Russia, a move that sparked wide criticism of the publication's journalistic ethics. Perhaps this backlash is part of what inspired BuzzFeed to reconsider the mechanics of balanced news reporting.

Smith referred to Outside Your Bubble as "an experiment," so it may not be a permanent BuzzFeed fixture. Wishful thinking aside, the feature probably won't be able to convince people to consider multiple viewpoints before forming opinions. Upending human nature is tough, but at least BuzzFeed readers will have a centralized way to quickly learn about people and perspectives they don't always hear from.

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